Story by Lourice Angie
On Thurs., Mar. 8, the Warwick Town Board held a second public hearing, prior to their regular monthly meeting, to discuss a proposed carry-out plastic bag fee. The fee would potentially change shopping for consumers in local supermarkets. The topic has gained the interest of many residents, local business owners, and various organizations.
Sustainable Warwick, the environmental community-based organization in Warwick, has been working on a proposed bag fee for the last four years. With the help of 1,550 petition signatures and the attention of the Warwick Town Board, their mission is to “think outside of the bag.” On Thurs., Feb. 8 Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton introduced the proposed five cent fee law, and it has become quite the topic of discussion around Town.
At last month’s public hearing Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton announced that the Board had conducted extensive research, including reviewing legislation, speaking with supermarket representatives, and visiting with the seven local senior clubs in town. Through this research, the Board learned that more than half of the seniors already use reusable bags.
Town Board Receives Letter from NYS FIA
In addition to researching the issue, the town board received a letter from Jay Pelz, the General Counsel and Vice president of Government Relations for the Food Industry Alliance of NYS (FIA.) The letter stated that the FIA supports the purpose of the proposed law, in its efforts to reduce the negative environmental and economic impacts associated with carry-out bags. It thanked Town Supervisor Sweeton and the Warwick residents for their thoughtful and deliberate participation on the consensus-building process.
By imposing a bag fee on the consumer, both a positive shift towards the use of reusable bags and a significantly reduced use of carryout bags within Town can be achieved. The production, resources, and energy of producing reusable totes are not eco-friendly; only the reuse of reusable bags will benefit the environment. By requiring a minimum fee of five cents per plastic, paper, or reusable bag provided during the point of sale, customers will be fully incentivized to use reusable bags each time they shop. Over time this is anticipated to maximize the use of reusable bags.
Discussion on Proposed Carry-Out Bag Law Continues
Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard commended the Town Board on entertaining the idea, and shared his thoughts on the proposed law fee saying, “It comes down to details and it comes down to how we can best affect our environment; I applaud you. I think it’s a very good idea and I think there are many ways we can figure it out in creative way. We are such a resourceful community.”
Newhard went on to say that a Town-wide law is specific to the Town.
“It’s very important because you have some heavy hitters in terms of disposable plastic bags,” said Newhard.
He explained that how the law would impact a village can differ. Citing both the large population of senior citizens in the Village of Warwick and the number of small businesses in the Village, he noted, “How it affects [seniors] is of great concern…and how it would affect those businesses.”
Newhard said that, were a carry-out bag fee law to be considered in the Village, extensive outreach to its merchants would be done, “to ensure that we can come up with a type of local law that makes sense and will also help the environment.”
Supervisor Sweeton clarified the Mayor’s statement, saying, “This only affects businesses in the Town, not the Village, as the Mayor pointed out.”
Sweeton went on say that the Town has worked closely with the FIA and with impacted community members such as Price Chopper and Shoprite Supermarkets.
“We didn’t want to do something that would hurt them, so we tried to take their concerns in as we looked at the legislation and we’ll continue to do that,” said Sweeton.
Meeting Attendees Respond
More than 18 local residents and business owners attended the meeting, most in favor of the proposed law fee. Each had a chance to share their thoughts and concerns with the board during the public hearing. Some brought reusable bags made from various materials such as hemp and plastic with them up to the podium while addressing the Board.
Julia Calderon, chairwoman of Sustainable Warwick’s Bag Committee, explained that Sustainable Warwick figures the Town’s 32,065 residents pack up 11 million bags a year. “It’s a good first step,” said Calderon.
Doug Stage, of Stage and Nathans LLP in Warwick, applauded the Board for pursuing the law, and for their leadership.
“Some of the objections, I think, can be overcome,” said Stage, going on to suggest that the bag fee need only be paid once, if residents simply stored their bags to bring back on their next trip to the store.
“Eleven million bags…for 40 thousand people in the Town of Warwick, is ridiculous. [It] clogs our drains and kills our animals,” said Stage.
A Warwick resident by the name of Bruce W. said that although there was a big turnout at the public hearing, it was not representative of the thirty thousand plus residents that still do not know about the discussion or proposed law.
“I feel more people should have say and agree as to what the law should be. Maybe the town can have an open ballot and let every resident consumer vote,” said Bruce.
Supervisor Sweeton has utilized the Town website, the newspaper and has discussed the issue on the air on his WTBQ radio show on 93.5 F.M, in efforts to get the word out to the public.
Response from Warwick Farmers’
Penny Styer, who addressed the Board on behalf of the Warwick Valley Farmers’ Market, spoke about cross-contamination guidelines and how the farmers’ market complies with the CDC (Center of Disease Control.)
She explained that at a farm market level, it means that meat has to be separated, even if it was previously frozen…from produce like eggs and vegetables.
Styer requested exemption for the Warwick Valley farmers’ and provided information on the different types of reusable and plastic bags already used at the farmers’ market.
Steve Pennings, owner of Pennings Farm Market in Warwick, says he has also participated with Sustainable Warwick’s BYOB initiative for approximately the last year.
Pennings explained that he had 20,000 reusable bags printed. Pennings sold the reusable bags for one dollar to customers who purchased $20 worth of goods, and offered a free bag to those who spent $40 or more.
“There [are] a lot of great ideas. It’s important for our future, and for the future of the next generation,” said Pennings.
He went on to say that, while he supports an initiative at the Town level to ban plastic, he is doubtful that charging a nickel would accomplish that.
“I think in general, what you’re really trying to create, is an environment for people to naturally bring their own bags for their groceries,” said Pennings.
Supervisor Sweeton announced that Wic and Snap recipients would be exempt from the law as well as home delivery customers.
“If you place your meats or vegetables in a bag you will not be charged, it’s the bag at the checkout counter,” said Sweeton.
Other exemptions would include prescription drug medications and bags from a liquor store.
Public Hearing Entitled Chapter 73 Carry- Out Bags Remains Open
Supervisor Sweeton announced that the Board still has a long way to go before they can adopt the proposed law. Sustainable Warwick anticipated having the law passed on or before Earth Day on Apr. 22.
However, there is still a great deal of input and information that needs to be considered and reviewed. Supervisor Sweeton will continue accepting written correspondence from the public. The proposed local law can be viewed on the Town website at www.townofwarwick.org. The next public hearing will be held on Thurs., Mar. 22 at 7:15 p.m., before the start of the regular board meeting in the Warwick Town Hall, located at 132 Kings Hwy., Warwick NY.
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget
Governors Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget has proposed a change to the Municipal Law to allow “Micro Wireless Facilities” to be placed on any utility, signal, or directional pole in a community and exempt this placement from any local zoning control whatsoever. These boxes (24”x 15”x 12”) need fairly short distances between them to be effective, so their impact may be significant.
Home rule and local resident control of their own zoning regulations has been enshrined in NYS since its inception. The issue is clearly stated in the article at: www.njslom.org/bureau/white-papers/BMI.WP_2106_1.pdf. Supervisor Sweeton urges residents to write to Govenor Cuomo, State Senator John Bonacic, and Assemblyman Karl Brabenec asking them to oppose the State of New York’s latest effort to destroy local municipalities’ right to control their communities’ development.
Coffee with a Cop Well-Attended
Warwick Police Lt. John Rader reported to the board that last week during the “Coffee with a Cop” event there was a good turnout and a lot of positive feedback from the public, and they greatly appreciate it. Lt. Rader wants to remind people that whenever there is bad weather predicted to please stay off the roads, as most of the accidents the Police Department responds to are completely avoidable.
Councilman Floyd DeAngelo reported that the next WVHS fundraiser will be the “Fore the Animals Golf Outing,” on Mon., May 7 at the Mansion Ridge Golf Course in Monroe. DeAngelo says they are in need of sponsors and prize contributors. Anyone who is interested may contact the event host, JoAnn Daily, from Foot Spa & Tea Bar at 986-7174.
Town Clerks Report; Bid Proposals
Warwick Town Clerk Eileen Astorino reported that the fees collected for the month of February were $4,803.50 and the fees paid out were $3,127.82. Astorino also announced a few bid proposals for work at the Thomas P. Morahan Beach Bath House.
The first was a bid from Finishing Touch Paintings for the painting and epoxy floor coating at the Thomas P. Morahan Town Beach House (all labor and materials included,) at a cost not to exceed $21,050. The Board accepted the bid from Finishing Touch.
The second bid proposal was for electrical work at Bath House. The Board accepted the bid proposal from Skyward Electric for the installation of electric heating in the bath house, LED lights inside and outside, and both ceiling and exhaust fans (all labor and materials included,) in an amount not to exceed $11,350.
The third bid was for plumbing work at the Bath House. The Board accepted the bid proposal from VanDuzer Mechanical for the installation of plumbing to both the men and women’s bathrooms (all labor and materials included,) in the amount not to exceed $26,000.