Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:36 PM on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

City council delays action on big issues

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

The public got to testify, but Homer City Council chose at its regular meeting Monday to postpone until its Aug. 27 meeting action on three ordinances. The reason for the postponement: the absence of council members Francie Roberts and Bryan Zak. With a majority of the six-member council required to pass an ordinance, one vote on Monday could have made the difference.

Postponed were:

• The amended version of Ordinance 12-33, appropriating $10,567 for the Homer Hockey Association Zamboni batteries;

• Ordinance 12-36, prohibiting sellers from providing customers with disposable plastic bags; and

• Resolution 12-074, authorizing City Manager Walt Wrede to negotiate a transfer of responsibility agreement with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities designating the city as the responsible entity for engineering, design and construction of improved traffic control at the corner of Main Street and the Sterling Highway.

Judging by public testimony, the council will have plenty to consider when it does take up the disposable plastic bag ordinance.

Deb Lowney testified in support for the ordinance, which defines disposable plastic bags as any bags made from plastic or any materials marketed or labeled as "biodegradable' or "compostable" that are neither intended for suitable for continuous reuse and are less than 2.25 mils thick. Exceptions include bags used by customers inside stores to package bulk items; bags used to contain dampness or leaks; bags used to protect prepared food or bakery goods; bags used by pharmacists for prescription drugs; newspaper, laundry or dry cleaning bags; or bags sold for consumer use off the seller's premises, such as collection or disposal of waste.

"I strongly support banning plastic bags after much travel and seeing numerous communities that have banned them. It's totally doable. It's environmentally the right thing to do," said Lowney.

Megan Murphy said she was "thrilled to see this ordinance. I would support that. I think anything that supports us as consumers to be more responsible consumers is a good thing."

Ginny Espinshade also spoke in favor of the ordinance.

"Not driving down the street and seeing alders decorated with plastic bags is a reflection of what our values are," said Espinshade.

The ordinance also attracted plenty of opposition, beginning with Karin Marks, owner of Art Shop Gallery.

"I do believe in reducing the use of bags to save money and getting rid of unwanted trash. I want to encourage less use of bags, but I also run a small business and believe there are flaws in the ordinance as it is written," said Marks, specifically noting section 5.42.030, prohibiting sellers from providing "to a buyer any disposable plastic shopping bag for the purpose of carrying a buyer's purchased goods from seller's premises."

Armed with several types of plastic bags used at her business, Marks said, "I have bags that no one has addressed, so I have to spend a sizeable amount of time to figure out what to do ... to be a good citizen. I think that it needs to be understood that most businesses are trying to do what's right."

Bob Malone, manager of Safeway, pointed out that plastic shopping bags are both reusable and recyclable.

"Grocery stores have recycle bins and we have one at the landfill," said Malone. "It probably makes more sense educating people on recycling at the landfill and letting people know what's available to recycle up there. ... I think it's more of an issue of disposing of them properly than the bags themselves."

Gift shop owner Al Waddell provided a show-and-tell of various plastic bags and packaging. With regard to encouraging customers to provide their own bags, Waddell said, "That's great for shoplifters. Backpacks are bad enough. When someone comes in with their own bag, we have to watch a lot."

Rick Norvell summed it up by saying, "I'm against the ban on bags. It seems like a big waste of everybody's time. ... I think we should leave the bags alone."

Council members Beau Burgess and Davis Lewis sponsored the ordinance. Stepping away from his council seat and taking a place at the table where public testimony is given, Burgess described plastic bags as toxic to the environment and marine wildlife.

"The current ordinance before you does not ban plastic bags outright," said Burgess. "It just seems like a good all-around stance for us to take as a marine community."

Lewis made the motion to postpone council action until all members could be present on Aug. 27.

An ordinance to use $60,000 from the city's general fund to complete construction of the new Homer High School track was introduced Monday, with a public hearing and second reading scheduled for Aug. 27. If approved, it will allow for alternative add-ons such as a shot put area and curbing not included in the low bid for the project being paid with a $1.1 million grant from the Legislature.

"I have no idea if the council will even approve this, but I put the ordinance out there because the council wanted to at least talk about it and let the public weigh in," Wrede told the Homer News.

During a special meeting preceding Monday's regular council meeting, the council voted to go into executive session to receive updates from city attorney Thomas Klinkner on two pending court cases, Griswold vs. city of Homer and Dietzmann vs. city of Homer. The reason for the executive session was "matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the government unit and attorney-client privilege."

The next meeting of the Homer City Council is Aug. 27, with the Committee of the Whole meeting at 5 p.m. and the regular meeting at 6 p.m.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.