YORK, Maine – By a narrow margin, town voters approved a first-in-the-state ban on single use plastic bags, paving the way for retailers large and small to begin implementing the measure early next year.
By a wider margin, residents also approved adding the York Village Master Plan to the town’s comprehensive plan, an issue that had drawn last-minute opposition from several York business people.
Victoria Simon of Bring Your Own Bag York, which spearheaded the plastic bag ban, had been waiting at the polls and hugged supporters when the results were announced. The vote was 1,649 in favor, 1,151 opposed.
“I hope what this first-in-the-state status means is that we’re an inspiration and a model,” said Simon. “If we can do it, towns and communities across Maine can feel that they can do it, too. The vote is an affirmation. People opened their minds and put convenience behind what is better for the environment.”
The measure, Article 7 on the ballot, creates an amendment to the town’s business regulation ordinance. It bans single-use plastic bags with built in handles such as those used by Hannaford Supermarket, Rite Aid Pharmacy and other retail establishments. Nonprofit and religious organizations are exempt. Allowed are bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, lobster, fish, bulk food and wet items.
While several other municipalities in Maine have passed ordinances that charge customers for using paper and plastic bags at retail establishments, York is the first town to fully outlaw the single-use bag. Paper bags are still allowed.
BYOB York, which includes a number of York High School students, had been working diligently in the past few months to organize events and get out the vote – and Simon credits their work with raising awareness of the issue. “They are the best ever,” she said, particularly the so-called “BYOB Youth.” “They are going to be so excited when they hear.”
Meanwhile, Ron McAllister, chair of the York Village Study Committee, said he was gratified at the voters’ decision on the Village Master Plan. The vote was 1,751 in favor to 978 opposed – or 64 percent of all voters. The results came despite robocalls made Monday night by opponents Arthur Kyricos, Scott Berger and Rick Ciampa urging people to vote against the measure.
“I’m delighted,” said McAllister. “Now we know that people understand and appreciate the value of the Master Plan.”
By voting in favor of Article 8, voters were saying they endorsed the “vision” of York Village laid out in the Master Plan – including more bike and pedestrian access, green spaces and a T-intersection at Long Sands Road and York Street. Voters will be asked in May to approve funding for the actual work. It is anticipated that as much as 90 percent of the cost could be picked up through grants.
Virtually all the remaining articles on the local ballot also passed during voting Tuesday, when 2,888 people, or 25 percent of registered voters, came to the polls. Although the secretary of state was anticipating 20 percent turnout statewide, Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski said she was not surprised at the relatively high turnout Tuesday – saying the bag ordinance drew people to the polls.