WATERVILLE — The controversy over a plastic bag ban in the city isn’t over yet, despite a ruling this week by Maine’s high court upholding the voter-approved measure.

City councilors on Tuesday will consider certifying election results that show voters approved the ban on Nov. 6, which will apply to stores that are 10,000-square-feet or larger such as Walmart, Shaw’s Supermarket, Hannaford, Save-A-Lot and JC Penney.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons downtown.

A shopper leaves with a plastic bag, purchased for an additional 10 cents, from Save-a-Lot in Waterville on Friday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The council is scheduled to consider certifying that the bag ban election result is 3,046 to 2,927 in favor, with 65 blanks, 20 removed and five disputed. However, City Solicitor William A. Lee III suggested the council could pass another amendment to the bag ban ordinance that would delay its implementation until September, after the voting issue has been resolved.

Lee suggested that the council could take the first vote to delay on April 2 and the final vote on April 16.

Bag ban opponents took the issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which dismissed the case and determined the ballots are no longer challenged because opponents failed to file paperwork requested by the court.

But on Thursday, those opponents filed an appeal with the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals Board, asking it to look at 75 voters whose ballots were challenged. Most of those voters are Colby College students.

Lee, however, said in a phone interview Friday that the filing does not adequately state the specific basis for the appeal, and that one of the signers, Mark Andre, of Oakland, has no legal standing to appeal because he does not live in Waterville. Lee said if they want to appeal, they must send another request that contains more specific information and does not contain Andre’s signature. The appeal also is signed by Cathy Weeks of Mt. Pleasant Street and Shaun Caron of Roosevelt Avenue.

“They have to file that before the city could start going through the process of setting up hearings,” Lee said.

He said if they do file an adequate appeal, the city could start scheduling hearings.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people representing the voters step in and try to block it,” he added.

He said some of the voters have attorneys who may argue that their clients’ rights to vote are being hindered.

The bag ban was to go into effect April 22, but Lee recommended the City Council delay implementing to give the Appeals Board time to consider an appeal, should one be requested that contains adequate information.

A memo from Lee to the council, dated Friday, says that if an appeal is successful, for example, it is possible it would have the effect of reversing the election results.

“To avoid the possibility of having an ordinance that has gone into effect being nullified, the council could pass an amendment to the ordinance to delay the effective date to, say, September 1,” the memo says. “This would allow time for appeals of the registrar’s decisions to be decided long before the effective date of the ordinance.”

Lee goes on to say that if the result of an appeal should nullify approval of the ordinance, it would occur before the ordinance would go into effect. Delaying the bag ban also gives businesses affected by the ban time to make adjustments if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Patti Dubois, the city’s clerk and registrar of voters, has the final say on validity of voter registrations. Dubois said Friday that she gave the appeal from Andre, Caron and Weeks to Appeals Board Chairman Roland Hallee on Thursday. His appeals board, which includes Kim Lane, a Democratic representative, and Roger Collins, the Republican representative, would hold hearings with voters whose ballots are being challenged. Hallee also is election warden for the city.

The appeals board could end up holding 75 separate hearings, one for each voter whose ballot is being challenged, but Lee said he might be able to combine some hearings.

Dubois said voters whose ballots are being challenged have to be given 20 days notice of hearings.

Shoppers walk Friday through the Hannaford parking lot on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville with baskets of groceries in plastic bags. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Todd Martin, a volunteer for the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition who spearheaded the bag ban, said he supports delaying the ban implementation.

“I personally want to work with the city to roll this out the right way and make sure businesses affected by this have enough notice and know exactly what the ordinance says,” he said.

Martin said his initial assessment is that voters have spoken and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has given clear direction to Dubois that the voters whose ballots were challenged and were corrected should be counted.”

“That’s a pretty clear indication to me those votes will be counted and the plastic bag ban should take effect,” he said.

The ordinance, as originally written, built in a six-month delay on implementing the ban to give stores time to use up their remaining plastic bag supplies and adjust to alternatives.

While no public outreach events have been planned yet, Martin said public forums where people can learn about the impact of the bag ban and businesses can ask questions would be good ideas. The coalition also has a few hundred reusable bags they might be able to give away for free, Martin said.

Ericka Dodge, manager of external communications for Hannaford, said in an email Friday that Hannaford supports efforts to reduce the impact of single-use plastic bags on the environment, so as part of its commitment to sustainability, it is supportive of ordinances such as the one Waterville voters approved.

“During the transition period and up through the change, we will be educating our customers about the ordinance and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags,” Dodge said. “We do things like place signage and reminders in the parking lot by the cart return carousels, store entry, and at checkout lanes.”

Teresa Edington, external communication and community relations manager for Shaw’s Supermarket and Star Market, issued a statement that says Shaw’s and Star Market care about the environment.

“Our stores, offices and distribution centers currently participate in many programs that promote recycling, cardboard baling, plastics recycling, zero waste programs, etc. To reduce the use of plastic and paper bags, we continually encourage our customers to bring in reusable bags for their shopping orders, the statement said. “We also have available at our stores other shopping bag alternatives that further promotes the use of reusable bags. In addition, we will continue to comply with all local ordinances regarding the use of plastic bags.”

At the Hannaford store in Brunswick, customers bring in their reusable bags, but they may also purchase paper bags at the check-out counter for 5 cents each for their groceries. Clerks will place meats in small plastic produce bags available at the check-out if customers ask for them.

The manager of Save-A-Lot on The Concourse in Waterville did not immediately return a call Friday seeking comment. The store already charges customers 10 cents per plastic bag, which acts as an incentive to use reusable bags or other means that are recyclable to carry out groceries.

The resolution councilors will consider Tuesday says 165 voters were challenged at the Nov. 6 election, and the initial count showed the bag ban passed by 146 votes. A recount was requested, and that recount took place Nov. 16. Without counting the challenged ballots, the bag ban failed by seven votes. Since there were enough challenged ballots to affect the outcome of the election, the Supreme Judicial Court was requested to decide their status.

Questions about the qualifications of 77 of the 165 challenged voters have been resolved through a registrar’s hearing or through further investigation by the registrar, according to the resolution. “Since the challengers failed to file a formal complaint for the Supreme Court to invoke its jurisdiction to determine the results of the election, the Court has concluded that the ballots are no longer challenged and should be included in the ballot count,” it says.

Eighty-eight of the challenged voters whose residence questions were not resolved through hearings were further investigated and compared to last semester’s residence records in the office of Colby’s dean of students. Of those, 68 were determined to meet the residency requirements and 20 were not, according to the resolution.

 

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]
Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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