Basalt approves bag fee at public’s urging
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council received strong urging from the public Tuesday night to pass a fee for each plastic and paper bag used at the town’s grocery stores.
Town officials confided privately before the meeting that they felt opponents to the fee would dominate the meeting, based on the calls they received in recent weeks. But when it counted most at a public hearing, proponents were loud and clear: Eleven people spoke in favor of the bag fee, while two spoke against.
The council voted 5-1 to approve the bag fee, although the amount will be debated in a second reading of the ordinance next month. Mayor Leroy Duroux was the dissenting vote.
The majority of the Basalt Town Council expressed informal support for a bag fee during a June 28 work session with the Basalt Green Team, a committee of residents who advise the council on environmental issues. The Green Team has lobbied the council to implement the bag fee as soon as possible.
Tuesday night, the public added extra support.
Basalt resident Auden Schendler said the town should pass the bag fee, then concentrate on bigger environmental issues. A bag fee isn’t all that “radical” anymore because many cities and towns have adopted them, he said.
“If we can’t pass this, we should fire up the diesel-fired margarita blenders,” said Schendler, vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Co.
Anna Naeser of Basalt said she hoped the bag fee would be just the first of many steps Basalt adopts to discourage wasteful habits.
Jeanne Wilder of Basalt said the bag fee presented a great opportunity to undertake environmental education.
Karen Baxter, general manger of the Roaring Fork Club, recalled acting on a suggestion to discourage use of bottled water at the golf and fishing club in 2008. Initially, members objected to her removal of complimentary bottled water. Her staff promoted use of reusable bottles and provided water stations. Eventually, the practice caught on and became a matter of pride. It drastically reduced the club’s estimated trashing of 80,000 plastic water bottles per year, she said.
Midvalley resident Dan Sadowsky said it is good government to intervene on issues beneficial to public health. He urged the council to move ahead despite some opposition.
“There will be some yelling and screaming, then it will be all over,” he said.
If the town ends up with a large account from the funds it collects, it can turn its attention to funding other worthwhile efforts like food banks and a community compost pile, he said.
The opponents to the bag fee objected to government intervention. Midvalley resident Garret Brandt objected to Basalt dictating “the right thing to do” and asked what action of residents will be targeted next.
“This is the nanny state that we’re going to be living under,” he said.
Basalt resident Roy Chorbajian said the bag fee assumes people are irresponsible, and he thinks many are not. He and many other people re-use their paper and plastic bags, he said. Chorbajian objected to the town’s bag fee as a “feel good” measure that won’t accomplish much. People who use plastic grocery bags, for example, now must pay the fee or buy trash bags.
“This is all very idealistic but let’s get practical here,” he said.
Chorbajian also expressed a sentiment that has appeared often in recent letters to the editors of the Aspen newspapers. “My biggest problem is government intervention,” he said.
Basalt will return some of the revenues from the program to the grocers to cover their extra costs from administering the program. The town’s share of revenues will be plowed back into education about the program and other efforts to reduce waste. The town will provide reuseable bags to residents and visitors, organize community clean-up events, create a website that shares information about waste reduction and pay for administration of the program.
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