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Proposed Portsmouth plastic bag ban clears another hurdle

Union Leader Correspondent

March 20. 2017 9:42PM
This plastic bag was recently seen in a tree near Prescott Park in Portsmouth. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — City councilors in Portsmouth decided to move forward with a proposed ban of single-use plastic bags Monday night.

After an 8-1 vote, the proposed ordinance will go to a public hearing and second reading.

City councilor Brad Lown encouraged his fellow members to pass the first reading on the ban. Lown said he doesn’t have the illusion the plastic-bag ban will be a major environmental improvement, but the city should go forward with considering it rather than tabling it until 2019 or 2020.

Lown added that the ordinance would not take effect until next year, and there would be plenty of time for any potential legal challenges.

Portsmouth’s attorney, Robert Sullivan, argued New Hampshire is not a home rule state. Cities and towns only have the authority to pass ordinances allowed by the legislature.

Sullivan said when the issue first came up two years ago, he spent time looking for the appropriate enabling legislation to allow the council to pass the ban, but could not find any. He said he still feels there is not the appropriate enabling legislation, and that lawmakers in Concord have expressed a similar opinion. Sullivan called the ordinance “highly susceptible to a legal challenge.”

Councilor Eric Spear was hesitant about the proposed ordinance, saying the city could incur legal costs defending the ban. Spear said he wants to know more from retailers and members of the public about the council’s authority before moving forward.

Prior to their discussion, resident Rebecca O’Brien encouraged the council to pass the ban, saying it will help keep the bags out of the trash and from polluting the environment. She has been working on the issue for four years through the committee Rise Above Plastics. Other communities have passed similar bans successfully, O’Brien said.

“We know the bans work,” O’Brien said. “This ordinance is the beginning of a solution.”

Resident Jim Lee had a different perspective. He said he has participated in city cleanups, and typically sees plastic water bottles, soda bottles and beer cans, not plastic bags. Lee encouraged the council to have police enforce littering laws.

“Portsmouth doesn’t have a plastic bag problem. We have a litter problem,” Lee said.

Environment Portsmouth Local and County Government