WATERVILLE — A long debate over whether to ban plastic bags at larger commercial and retail businesses in the city will end Nov. 6 as voters go to the polls to decide the issue.

Voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Alfond Athletic Center at Thomas College on West River Road.

The question on the ballot asks: “Do you wish to enact the proposed ordinance, which establishes a ban on providing free carryout plastic bags to a customer at the point of departure in any retail or commercial establishment located in the city of Waterville with a retail or commercial space at or exceeding 10,000 square feet?”

A yes vote, according to a ballot summary, would ban the distribution of free plastic bags at the point of departure in retail or commercial establishments with a retail or commercial space exceeding 10,000 square feet; a no vote will allow them to continue to provide free bags.

The Waterville City Council 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 dissenter. Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the vote, but councilors voted 5-1 Aug. 21 to override the veto, with Mayhew once again the only dissenter.

In his veto statement, Isgro warned that a referendum for a bag ban would invite special interest groups and “dark money funded influence peddlers” into the city and further divide the community.

Isgro claimed Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, which initiated the bag ban, might use “outside influence to fund propaganda against reusable bags.”

“In recent years outside special interest groups, lobbyists, and dark money funded influence peddlers have spent hundreds of millions trying to influence Maine public policy,” Isgro wrote. “Finding their successes often stifled by Maine people who reject such outside influence on our way of life, it seems they have now begun to target municipalities that they perceive as easier and cheaper to promote their agenda in.”

Isgro warned that if the referendum were successful, Sustain Mid-Maine also would target take-out containers, plastic straws and paper bags as other items to ban.

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The plastic bag ban was initiated by Linda Woods, coordinator of Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition.

Woods contacted members Stu Silverstein and Todd Martin about an ordinance. The three also had worked on an effort to institute pay-as-you-throw, the city’s current system of trash collection.

Sustain Mid-Maine’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse Recycle Team organized the Plastic Bag Committee because members are concerned about the proliferation of plastic on roadsides and in waterways, according to Woods, who also is leader of the 21-member committee, which held its first meeting about the issue in July 2017. Those who worked on the initiative besides Woods are Stu Silverstein, Marian Flaherty and Scott McAdoo, of Waterville; Alan Douin and Lassandra Von Appen, of Winslow; and Toby Rose, manager of the Save-A-Lot store on The Concourse.

Woods said Sustain Mid-Maine received a New England Grassroots Environment Fund Seed grant after getting permission to put the plastic bag question on the November ballot and used the money to fund mailers urging voters to approve the bag ordinance. Seed grants are available for groups launching new projects and/or evolving the scale of an existing project, and the money is intended to support community groups who represent the most exciting energy in the environmental movement that are not being reached by traditional funders, according to Woods.

“The Fund interprets the word ‘environment’ broadly and will provide funding for a wide range of activities. Whole systems-thinking is critical to initiatives focused on making our environment better, healthier and more sustainable.”

Sustain Mid-Maine showed the documentary “Bag It” at venues including Railroad Square Cinema, the Spectrum Generations’ Muskie Center, Waterville Senior High School and churches, she said. The group collected more than 300 signatures from supportive residents, according to Woods.

A piece written by Martin that appears on Sustain Mid-Maine’s website says plastic shopping bags are made from oil and natural gas and never degrade.

“There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville,” it says. “That means Waterville residents alone use approximately 2,400,000 plastic bags every year. That does not include residents of other towns who shop in Waterville and use plastic bags. A plastic bag is about a foot across. If you put 2,400,000 plastic bags end to end, it would stretch over 8,000 football fields. This amounts to a lot of waste, waste that can be prevented.”

Sustain Mid-Maine fliers note that Bath, York, Freeport, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Saco, Belfast, Rockland, Blue Hill and Manchester have banned plastic bags. Portland, South Portland, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have placed a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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