Basalt bag fee foe finds support in the trenches
November 8, 2011
BASALT – A foe of the Basalt Town Council’s decision to start charging a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic grocery bags next May said Monday that he’s collected enough signatures to force a town vote on the issue.
Roy Chorbajian of Basalt said he has gathered about 310 signatures from people who say they are registered voters in the town. He needs at least 231 signatures, or 10 percent, of the electorate.
“I think I’m way over the hump,” he said.
Chorbajian said he wants to accumulate a big cushion because some of the signatures will inevitably be invalidated for one reason or another. He plans to circulate the petition through the end of November, then submit it to the town clerk.
Chorbajian started collecting signatures Oct. 22. He approached people at various high-traffic areas in town every day except one, when it snowed too much. He started by seeking signatures at the El Jebel City Market but found too many people weren’t registered to vote in Basalt. He then collected signatures at Clark’s Market and at the Basalt post office, until the postmaster ordered him off sidewalks in front of the building.
Chorbajian said Donna Thompson volunteered to help him collect signatures and did a fantastic job. He claimed opposition to the bag fee was widespread, among residents of Basalt and beyond.
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“I’ve had people coming from all over the valley thanking me,” he said. “People from Carbondale and Aspen said, ‘Why don’t they let us vote?'”
The Basalt Town Council voted 6-1 on Sept. 27 to approve the bag fee. At least two council members supported a plastic bag ban, but it didn’t have enough support. The Aspen City Council and Carbondale board of trustees approved plastic bag bans this fall along with a 20-cent fee per paper bag.
No one has mounted visible efforts to overturn the plastic bag bans in Aspen and Carbondale.
Chorbajian said opposition to Basalt’s fee centers on three issues, based on the comments he heard: people re-use their plastic grocery bags for everything from garbage can liners to dog waste containers; they don’t want government intervention; and it makes no sense to focus bans and fees on grocery bags when so many other shops use plastic bags.
Chorbajian said he questioned if the elected officials in Basalt, Aspen and Carbondale made enough of an effort to gauge constituents’ thoughts on the bag fees and bans before taking action.
“Their politicians are not in the real world,” he said. Chorbajian claimed opposition to Basalt’s bag fee transcends party and political philosophy lines. He said he is moderate rather than liberal or conservative.
If the petition is submitted to the town by the end of November and the clerk finds enough valid signatures, the issue could be on the ballot for the April 3 election, when Basalt will select a mayor and fill two council seats.
In prior interviews, Basalt officials said they would welcome a town vote on the bag fee.