AUGUSTA — It might cost some shoppers 5 cents soon for every plastic bag they get with their purchases in city stores.

A proposal for shoppers at some — or all — stores in Augusta to be charged the fee will be up for discussion Thursday by city councilors.

Last week most councilors discussing a proposal from Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti to ban plastic bags were reluctant to eliminate them entirely. Many did, however, express interest in requiring stores to charge customers a 5-cent-per-bag fee for plastic bags.

Councilors said such a fee could encourage people to bring reusable bags to the store with which to carry out their goods, rather than get new plastic bags each time they shop. They said plastic bags are a major source of litter and can be commonly seen in roadside ditches, water bodies and even in trees. Other councilors noted, however, that many people reuse the plastic bags they get now for free in stores.

“I wouldn’t want to do a complete ban. I’d be more in favor, if we do something, of a fee to at least give consumers a choice if they wanted to have a plastic bag,” said At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien. “It’s not an illegal product. They do have their uses, and their reuses. I’d rather incentivize behavior rather than ban behavior.”

Though councilors didn’t take a vote on the issue last week, City Manager William Bridgeo said Wednesday, “I don’t think the support is there for a ban, based on the conversations of the other night.”

If Augusta were to consider adopting a per-bag fee, or ban for that matter, the question remains how such a proposal would be decided — either by a vote of councilors or by voters in a citywide referendum question.

Bridgeo, referring to information provided by the Natural Resources Council of Maine on communities that have banned plastic shopping bags or required a per-bag charge, said most Maine communities with a 5-cent-a-bag charge for plastic or paper bags — including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth — imposed the charge by City Council action, not by residents voting in a referendum.

Most communities that have banned plastic shopping bags have decided the issue with referendums — including York, where voters approved it in a 2015 referendum; and Freeport, where voters approved it in 2016 — though some including Saco and Bath, approved bag bans by council votes.

Waterville residents voted in November 2018 on a proposal to ban plastic bags that initially passed by 146 votes, but a controversial recount later determined that the measure had failed by seven votes after a group of Waterville voters challenged 164 ballots, most of which were from Colby College students. A challenge to that result is pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Corey Wilson, an at-large councilor in Augusta, said if a per-bag fee were imposed, he thinks the city should get the money from the sales of the bags. But Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott said requiring stores to track each bag used and collect that money to give to the city would be an unfair burden on businesses. Conti said all the municipalities with per-bag fees in Maine now allow the businesses to keep the 5-cents-a-bag fee.

Councilors meet Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. with an executive session of councilors to discuss pending litigation, with the regular, public portion of the meeting to begin after the closed-door session.

Councilors also are scheduled to:

• Discuss a Planning Board recommendation to establish definitions related to solar energy systems;

• Discuss authorizing the sale of three properties acquired by the city through nonpayment of taxes, on Orchard Street, Cross Hill Road and North Belfast Avenue; and

• Discuss a Planning Board recommendation to expand the area within which the neighborhood compatibility of proposed building projects must be considered before approval for certain types of projects, including major developments and subdivisions, licensed quarry operations and shooting ranges.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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