WATERVILLE — They fanned out all across downtown Waterville on Saturday — big kids, little kids, moms, dads and City Council candidates — all volunteers to combat what they see as a growing threat to the environment.

Litter.

Specifically, plastic bags.

“We did well today, I think,” said Linda Woods, coordinator of the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, sponsor of Saturday’s community cleanup in support of Waterville’s Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot for a ban on plastic shopping bags at stores over 10,000 square feet.

“We’re trying to call attention to plastic bag litter in the city and what it looks like — the damage it’s doing to the river, the sidewalks and the new River Walk,” she said. “We want that to be beautiful, not cluttered. We want you to vote ‘yes’ on municipal Question 1 in November.”

City councilors on Aug. 6 voted 4-1 to place the proposed plastic bag ordinance on the Nov. 6 ballot, with Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, the lone holdout.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the council decision, saying in a statement that a bag ban referendum would invite special interest groups and “dark money funded influence peddlers” into Waterville, as well as further divide the community.

City councilors voted 5-1 later in August to override Isgro’s veto and let city residents decide the fate of the proposal.

Todd Martin, of the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition and organizer of Saturday’s cleanup effort, said there is no outside money, aside from environmental grants, fueling Waterville’s bid to clean up the city by banning plastic shopping bags.

“We organized today’s cleanup because we want to clean up litter in the community, and we want to demonstrate how many plastic shopping bags litter our community,” Martin said from a picnic table in Castonguay Square where he handed out gloves and collection bags to volunteers. “We organized this cleanup today to show that plastic bags litter our community and we need to do something about it.”

Laurel York, of Waterville, said she showed up to help with the cleanup Saturday because she loves the city she calls home.

“I participate in a lot of activities in town, so I’m participating in keeping my town clean and a pleasant place for everyone to enjoy — and I believe in this cause for the plastic bags being banned in the big-box stores.

“If every community did this sort of thing — one small step — it would add up to mean a lot for the country and the world.”

Members of the Green Team at Waterville Senior High School also showed up Saturday to lend a hand in the cleanup.

Among them were Emme Ayers, 15, and her mother, Julie Letourneau Ayers, who is the granddaughter of the late outdoor writer Gene Letourneau, the librarian at the high school and the advisor of the Green Team environmental club.

“We are interested in educating, first of all our community at the high school, but then spreading out as far as we can. We’ve been talking about specifically micro-plastics recently,” Julie Ayers said. “We are partnering with a Colby professor … on environmental science who will be studying small streams in Waterville this semester … and she has invited the Green Team to be part of that.”

Isgro vetoed the resolution that would place a proposed ban on plastic bags at large retail stores on November’s election ballot in early August, saying the “overriding individual choice in how residents bag their groceries strays” from the mission of local government.

Others appeared to have agreed with him, saying the referendum on plastic bags targets businesses that are the largest commercial taxpayers in the community.

Waterville downtown businessman Jay Coelho, a Libertarian who started a petition to recall Ward 5 City Councilor John O’Donnell in June after O’Donnell’s temporary appointment to the seat in April, said he is seeking the Ward 5 seat as a Democrat in November.

He said he supports the cleanup efforts but is holding back on his support of the plastic bag ban.

Meg Smith, a Democrat seeking the Ward 3 election in November, also was on hand Saturday for the cleanup with her three daughters, but she declined to comment on the plastic bag ban until she knows more about the proposal.

“I have been reading it,” Coelho said of the proposed ordinance regulating carryout plastic shopping bags. “I think sometimes it doesn’t go far enough. I think that when you pick and choose who’s going to have to carry plastic bags, it’s kind of not my thing — if it was a blanket across the board I may have more empathy for it — but when it’s just 10,000 square feet or above, somehow it seems you’re picking winners and losers.”

Coelho said he could support a fee on bags if it came to that, but banning some businesses from using them while giving others a pass is not a fair way to run a community.

“There’s a lot of opposition to the bag ban in Waterville,” he said. “I think they’re objecting to being told how to live their lives. Nobody wants to be told what they should or shouldn’t use. Knowing what I know now, I would vote ‘no’ on that ban.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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