Plastic Bags

Courtesy photograph.

WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council on Monday votes to institute a city-wide ban on single-use plastic bags at its regular meeting.

The vote, after a third night of public comment on the matter, went 4 to 1, with only council member Tim Burney voting against.

Council member James Harvey took a tally of the number of speakers who came to the podium for their 3-minute speaking opportunities, and openly admitted that sort of data affected his ‘yea’ vote.

“The people who spoke here tonight, I got 7 ‘nos’ and 15 ‘yesses’ — there were a couple that were indecisive,” Harvey said, adding he was also influenced by a Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman poll on Facebook that drew 524 votes in favor of the ban to 402 against. “Putting my personal beliefs aside, our job is to do what the people want and… it’s apparent, that’s what the people want.”

Even in his lone ‘no’ vote, Burney said that the vocal opinions of those on the pro-ban side convinced him to change his personal habits, even if the ban went against his philosophical beliefs.

“Ever since this came up, I’ve been educated by you guys about plastic bags, and I’ve stopped using them myself,” Burney said before the call to vote. “But that being said, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to dictate to someone who wants to use a plastic bag that they can’t… in a lot of ways that’s the government telling the citizen what to do — again.”

Council member and deputy mayor Stuart Graham introduced more than a dozen amendments to the wording of the amendment before it went to vote, and before casting his ‘yea’ sought to make a point larger than the matter of plastic bags alone.

“Like many who spoke today, I’m concerned about the role of government, but our society is governed by the rule of law. It would be great if government ruled by the law of common sense, but thousands of years of history show us that that doesn’t always work out so well,” Graham said. “One of the things history shows us is that when left to our own devices, our desire for success is going to lead us to the least expensive ways of making that happen… I know banning plastic bags in Wasilla is not going to save the oceans or our waterways, but we do know every little bit helps. This is a little bit and this is a little bit that’s going to help make us a cleaner-looking city.”

Appearances of Wasilla and the Mat-Su Valley, and the degrading moniker ‘Valley Trash’ was brought up more than once, mentioned by council member Glenda Ledford.

“In Alaska, we like to think we’re independent, but we are a part of the United States, and as a small business owner, I don’t like the feds being in our business. But if we don’t take a stand and start here, they’re going to be here and we won’t have a choice,” Ledford said. “This is just a very small part of us beginning to take care of our environment. I’m not a tree-hugger and people who know me know I’m not, but these plastic bags are everywhere. To be honest, I don’t like to be called ‘Valley Trash.’”

With the environmental benefits of banning plastic bags come some challenges for local businesses — especially small businesses.

In the public comments portion of the meeting, J and J Food Market owner Jake Hale spoke to those challenges with price quotes.

“In a standard month, my small store spends $126 on plastic bags. I pay about a penny a bag. Paper bags are 22 and a half cents a bag, so if I have to get the same amount of paper bags, monthly, that takes me to just under $3,000 a month,” Hale said, also pointing out that reusable bags cause customers to buy fewer items. “If people have to fit items into their re-usable bags they forgo impulse buys. Either way, you’re going to hit me on expense or on topline sales.”

It was ultimately, a desire to protect Wasilla businesses from a plastic bag tax being mulled by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly that prompted the city council to take pre-emptive action.

“We do care about what we look like — we get graded on that and there are the ‘Valley Trash’ wisecracks,” said mayor Bert Cottle, who pointed out that the mayor does not vote on ordinances unless there is a tie. “The borough was planning to collect $2.1 to $2.2 million on (a bag tax), and I wanted to know how much goes back to the communities to pick up the garbage? None… Well, I didn’t think that was fair.… I know we have farm animals and I don’t want our livestock eating plastic bags. Will this cure the problem? No, but it does start something.”

Cottle added that it will be interesting to see the response of Palmer and the Borough Assembly in the wake of Wasilla’s vote, given that both bodies had stated they were taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Wasilla’s effort.

In other matters Monday night, the council voted unanimously to support Resolution 18-02 which authorizes “A Land Use Agreement With The Mat-Su Valley Veterans Wall Of Honor Foundation For The Relocation Of The Veterans Wall Of Honor To The New Wasilla Police Station Site Located At 801 N. Wasilla-Fishhook Road.”

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