Confident the politics of environmental protection have strengthened since voters in 2013 soundly overturned a 10-cent fee for single-use plastic bags, Durango city councilors Monday agreed to revisit the issue.
Councilors directed staff members to come up with three options in an effort to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags in Durango:
Draft language for an ordinance that would reduce the use of single-use plastic bags through a fee of between 5 cents and 20 cents per bag or perhaps an outright ban on the bags.Draft language for a measure that would also create an ordinance to minimize the use of single-use plastic bags that the council itself would seek to put on the ballot for voter approval in the municipal election in April 2021.Draft language for a measure that would also create an ordinance to minimize the use of single-use plastic bags that the residents in support of it would work to get on the April 2021 ballot.Deciding which route to follow in a second effort to reduce plastic bag use in Durango would likely become clearer during an April 7 work session.
But already support on the council is apparent for taking another whack at reducing plastic bag use.
“If we put it to a vote, I think the public would receive it positively,” Councilor Dean Brookie said. “If the naysayers are still out there, let them come out (for the election). Let’s figure out the details of the wording and put it on the ballot next April,” he said.
Mayor Melissa Youssef said she was ready to go straight toward adoption of an ordinance that would not require a yearlong wait before action could be taken.
“Telluride took action in 2011. We’re so far behind. Think of all the bags that have been used since then,” she said.
City Council is re-examining the issue after scores of residents descended on City Hall in November 2019 to submit a petition signed by more than 1,200 residents asking the council to pass an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags. Dozens of residents cheered and waved reusable grocery bags at the November meeting urging councilors to take action.
In 2013, after the City Council voted to put a 10-cent fee on each plastic bag used in stores of 25,000-square-feet or more. Residents challenged the ordinance in a special election. The ordinance was overturned with 56% voting to kill it and only 44% offering support for it.
Youssef said staff should look not only at wording that would reduce the use of single-use plastic bags but would also require a high percentage of recycled paper be used in any paper bags that might replace them.
She also suggested the city hold community sessions to gauge the public’s pulse on the right path to follow in discouraging, perhaps even banning, single-use plastic bags.
Councilor Barbara Noseworthy suggested any money collected in fees from plastic bags be dedicated to support nonprofit environmental groups. That, she said, would eliminate the perception that the city would be benefiting financially from any fee imposed on the use of plastic bags.
Using revenue collected from a plastic-bag fee was a proposition Brookie liked.
“This is not meant to be a money-grabbing effort by the city,” he said.
Brookie said if councilors could find the proper wording for an ordinance, he would not put that option “off the table.”
Councilor Chris Bettin also offered support for pursing an ordinance: “Personally, if we get clarity on an ordinance, I would consider adopting it. Enough has changed that it would be accepted.”
Among the changes that have occurred since 2013, said Councilor Kim Baxter, is a state Supreme Court ruling that said a fee imposed on single-use plastic bags in Aspen is not considered a tax, thus freeing it from a requirement that voters approve it under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
If councilors choose to go to voters for adoption of an ordinance to reduce single-use plastic bags, Kathleen Adams with Durango Beyond Plastic vowed her group would work to support the measure.
“There will be a huge effort to get out the vote if there is a referendum,” she told councilors.