STONINGTON — Residents overwhelmingly approved an ordinance banning and/or regulating plastic bags and straws at a town meeting at Stonington High School Thursday night.

In August, the Board of Selectman appointed an advisory committee to research and write a possible ordinance. As written, the ordinance will prohibit business establishments from providing or selling single-use plastic checkout bags with handles made from thin plastic film.

The ordinance exempts garbage bags and door-hanger bags as well as plastic bags used for dry-cleaning, newspaper delivery, pet waste, yard waste and prescription drugs.

Also exempted are thin plastic barrier bags used to transport fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, bakery goods or unwrapped prepared foods. The barrier bags could also be used for frozen foods, meat or fish, flowers, potted plants or any items that could be contaminated or damaged if placed together in the same bag.

For checkout bags to customers, the ordinance will require retail operations to provide only reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags and will encourage the use of reusable bags.

Plastic straws will be available “upon request only” basis from food vendors to allow for those who need a plastic straw to ingest beverages, such as the disabled and the elderly.

The committee adapted language from similar ordinances in towns that have passed similar bans, including Newport and Middletown, R.I.

Before the vote, committee member Erika Lebling, who is the Donor Relations Manager at the Westerly Land Trust and who worked with aquatic animals as a senior trainer at both the Mystic Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium, spoke about the deadly impact of plastic on aquatic life, including sea turtles and whales, and urged residents to vote for the ban.

“The state of Connecticut uses 1 billion plastic bags per year and 70 percent of them end up in the waterways,” she said. She did not cite a source for that statistic. “Here in Stonington, a town that is bordered to the south by the Sound, to the east and west by two rivers, please not only consider your town and your neighbors but the wildlife.”

Julie Holland, chair of the Stonington Beautification Committee, also urged residents to vote for the ordinance. “We all are going to have to make some changes and change isn’t always easy but the writing is on the wall,” she said. “We’re doing this for our future.”

Of the approximately 75 people who attended the meeting, only two voices were heard in objection to the ordinance.

In other business, residents also unanimously passed an ordinance that will provide tax abatements to farms that have $15,000 in farm revenue or expenses.

By state law, farmers can already apply to the town for abatements on equipment assessed at up to $100,000.

The new ordinance adds an additional $100,000 exemption on the assessed value of farm equipment and an abatement on farm buildings of up to $100,000 of assessed value.

First Selectman Rob Simmons recused himself from the vote on the ordinance, citing his family’s ownership of Stone Acres Farm, which he said would be eligible for an abatement of $1,700.

Ward Smith, who is part of an agricultural group in Stonington that petitioned for the ordinance, said it will help farmers with cash flow and may incentivize some farmers to produce more in order to qualify for the abatements.

“There are two layers of incentive, the first being the tax exemptions, but also the $15,000 requirement means that for a farmer that is making $10,000 in gross sales, he knows if he makes $5,000 more, he can get these deductions,” said Smith. “So there’s really a hidden incentive there to grow small farms.”

In a third vote, residents unanimously approved the renaming of the town’s Permanent Committee to Study the Needs and Use of Town Buildings to the Stonington Facilities Committee.

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com

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