Basalt voters will go with their guts on plastic bags
BASALT – Basaltines will vote on a plastic-bag ban April 3 without much bombast or bluster. Neither side in the debate plans to spend much time or effort on the campaign, representatives said Tuesday.
Roy Chorbajian, the Basalt resident who gathered signatures on a petition to get the issue before voters, said he doesn’t want to engage in a nasty back-and-forth debate with proponents of the plastic-bag ban. He wouldn’t make any predictions about an outcome, explaining that he didn’t want to “jinx” anything.
“If all the people that signed (the petition) vote, we’ve got a good shot,” Chorbajian said.
Tripp Adams, a member of Basalt’s Green Team and a proponent of the bag ban, said he and allies also don’t intend to “get into a big political debate over it.” Instead, they will appeal to what they believe is a sense of obligation to do what is best for Mother Nature.
“It’s really about doing the right thing,” Adams said.
The issue followed a long, strange trip through the legislative process to land on Basalt’s ballot. Here’s how:
• The Green Team, composed of residents and council members, urged the Town Council last summer to adopt a ban on single-use paper and plastic grocery bags.
• The Town Council voted in September to implement a 20-cent fee on both types of grocery bags starting May 1.
• The move was challenged by Chorbajian. He launched a petition drive designed to force the council to rescind the bag-fee ordinance or place the issue on the ballot. Chorbajian needed 231 signatures from town voters to force action; he collected 264.
• The council rescinded the ordinance, which created the fee on paper and plastic, replaced it with a ban on plastic grocery bags and retained a 20-cent fee on
paper bags. The council members said they wanted a proposal consistent with those passed by the elected boards in Aspen and Carbondale. They agreed to honor the effort of Chorbajian and placed the issue on the April 3 ballot. Carbondale residents will also vote that day on the plastic grocery bag ban.
Chorbajian said he is against Basalt’s proposal for three simple reasons. The vast majority of people re-use plastic grocery bags for everything from trash container liners to picking up dog waste. It’s unfair to “pick on” grocery stores when so many other stores provide plastic bags, he said. And, finally, people “don’t want government intervention” in their lives when it comes to issues like grocery bags, Chorbajian said.
Proponents contend banning plastic bags will benefit the environment in a number of ways, including reducing petrochemicals used to make them.
Adams said the plastic bag ban should be supported to reduce the unnecessary consumption of materials. “Why create excessive waste and then throw it in the landfill?” he asked.
Basalt Councilman Peter McBride was a key proponent of the proposal. He said he cannot campaign for passage as an elected official because of state regulations. However, as a private citizen he will “trumpet the issue” and answer residents questions, he said.
McBride said he wants to see a change of habits in our “throw-away society.” He has witnessed the overwhelming collection of plastic bottles and bags at the end of the Colorado River as well as in some of the oceans and seas of the planet. He said he would like to see changes made without elected officials forcing action.
“I’ve said all along industry should make the change. They haven’t,” McBride said.
The plastic bag ban isn’t supported by all Basalt environmental advocates. Town resident Jim Paussa supported Chorbajian’s effort – although for different reasons.
“I think we should be doing a lot more for the environment,” Paussa said. He said he is concerned about the effects of plastic waste, but thinks Basalt needs to look at a bigger picture rather than just a plastic bag ban.
“We could get together if we had the leadership and do something that really has an impact,” Paussa said.
He favors tapping various experts in the environmental sciences from the Roaring Fork Valley and charting a course to make a true, wide-ranging environmental impact, such as reducing energy consumption and, thus, the carbon footprint of the valley.
Accomplishing that goal would require a grassroots effort that engages as many people as possible or, at least, enlists trusted representatives of all viewpoints, Paussa said. And it is a process that would take months.
The effort would need to concentrate on solutions and downplay positions that lead to stand-offs, according to Paussa. “The tree hugger and the redneck aren’t that far apart,” he said. “We just need to sit down and talk to them.”
He was critical of the way the bag ban came about.
“This process was top down,” Paussa said. “Government decided what they thought had to happen and they implemented it.”
As a result, the town has been polarized, in Paussa’s eyes. He believes the April 3 election is really a lost opportunity to make meaningful progress on environmental issues.
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