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Residents aim to reverse small Alaska town's plastic bag ban

Naomi KloudaHomer Tribune

A group of Homer people are hoping to reverse the grocery bag ban, bringing the banished plastic bag once again into favor for consumers. All plastic bags under 2.25 mils thick that were used at grocery stores and other retail outlets were banned by city ordinance as of Jan. 1. Since that time, stores are allowed to use up their supply of the bags, but are prohibited from ordering more. It was authored by Councilmen David Lewis and Beau Burgess.

Justin Arnold, Dan Gardner and Marlina Hogdon applied through the Homer City Clerk’s office to circulate a petition for 90 days. In that time period, they must gain 230 signatures in order to place the question on the Oct. 1 general election ballot. The petition is due back to the clerk’s office by June 3.

The amount of signatures is determined by the rule that it must be 25 percent of all the people who voted in the last city election. That would be just over 900 people, said City Clerk Jo Johnson.

Arnold said there are multiple reasons why he wants to overturn the ban. The main reason is to give residents a chance at the question of whether to ban or not to ban.

“We’ve had overwhelming support. There is a 5 percent of the majority who don’t care one way or another. There’s probably 2 percent who are pro ban, but the majority, 93 percent, are for the repeal or at least for the allowance of a vote. That, rather than it being crammed down our throats by the city council.”

Chris Story, host of the KGTL program Radio Realty or Alaska Matters, took up the ban-wagon in his show last week. He likened the use of plastic bags to the use of diesel fuel inside city limits in a hypothetical scenario.

“Now he (Councilman Beau Burgess who co-sponsored the ordinance) runs heavy equipment. I object to him burning diesel fuel. There’s no reason he can’t collect bio-fuels and use those alternative fuels instead of diesel. I want him to do that,” Story said on his program last Tuesday. “Now, what if I make an ordinance that he has to re-use grease (recycled from fryers in restaurants) if he operates his heavy equipment inside city limits?”

The plastic bag ban is just like that, he said. It’s enforced “behavior modification,” Story said.

Allen Janzti and Story are signing on as sponsors with Arnold et all for the petition.

“We’re going to be staging a place where people can come together and sign the petition,” Story said. They will be advertising this well in advance on the radio and in the news.

The problem isn’t just in the bag ban on its own demerit. Story worries about a laundry list of city council or administrative actions that micromanage Homer behavior.

Realtors tend to be the canary in the cave when it comes to warning others on intrusive zoning, signage or other property requirements, Story said. The code of ethics licensed Realtors operate by means they should try to stay on top of ordinances in order to impart that information during property sales. In Homer, there are a lot of restrictions that then gives Story fodder for his radio program. Lately, he has been discussing the Bridge Creek Reservoir area, the source of the city’s water supply and a place where all construction must follow strict guidelines that he doesn’t believe always makes logical sense. He also has talked extensively against the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s proposed ordinance regulating activities 50 feet from the waterline on rivers and some lakes.

“Where do they (city council) stop when they say ‘we are here to protect the environment.’ They aren’t here to protect the environment -- they are here to conduct city business, to make this an efficient streamlined city that puts the people first,” he said.

The council spends too much time “changing your behavior in alignment with a larger agenda.”

Bag-ban co-sponsor David Lewis said he doesn’t have a problem with putting the matter before voters. “If it encourages participation in the political process, I have no qualms if people want to sign and put it on a ballot,” he said.

The ban has had a good impact, he feels. “You see more people with their own bags and things like that. Some of the stores maybe don’t like it, but it’s probably saving the stores money, depending on how they are going. We’ll let the people decide.”

The Oct. 1 election also will feature two city council seats up for vote, the seats currently held by Bryan Zak and James Dolma. But the biggest problem with local elections is poor voter turnout, Lewis said.

“If it brings out more people to vote, more power to them. Whatever happens, happens,” Lewis said.

This story first appeared in The Homer Tribune. Used with permission.