SOUTHWEST HARBOR — After a little pressure from the public on Tuesday, selectmen decided to schedule a special town meeting in November to vote on funding for the raw water station and creating ordinances that ban single-use plastic bags and the use of polystyrene takeout containers.
The special town meeting is set for Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m., at a venue yet to be decided. Town officials said a venue will be announced by the Nov. 6 state election.
More than 30 residents attended the public information sessions at the firehouse on Tuesday night prior to the regularly scheduled meeting of the select board.
In the spring of this year a group of students, now freshmen at the high school, began working on a project to ban plastic bags in Mount Desert Island towns. It was a school project fostered by Pemetic Elementary teacher Bonnie Norwood and supported by the organization A Climate to Thrive.
“What we’re trying to do here is change the culture,” said Charlotte Partin, one of the students.
“Have we had any input as to what kind of hit businesses would take?” asked Don Lodge, who owns The Lodge-ings, an inn in town.
There have been multiple forums regarding the subject in libraries around the island in recent weeks. This group of four civically-active teenagers has worked to educate the public and push for ordinances banning plastic bags in each town. Earlier this week, the European Union voted to ban single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam takeout boxes.
In Southwest Harbor, selectmen have debated putting the subject out to voters either this fall or next spring. One reason for calling for the vote this fall would be to have the ordinance in place before businesses begin ordering supplies for the 2019 season.
“I don’t see any issue with cutting out the plastic bags,” said Adrian Leach, the assistant manager of the Southwest Harbor Food Mart. “We seem to have a lot of customers that are happy with the bags we have.”
While the food mart has switched to using biodegradable bags, Leach told the crowd he believes people shopping at the store are amenable to using reusable bags.
“It’s something that our town can be proud of,” said Mary McLaud, who owns a salon in town. “People can pay 10 cents more for a container. Businesses can proudly say they are using ecological containers.”
McLaud called the work the students have done to educate the public “amazing.”
A separate proposed ordinance would ban polystyrene takeout containers. These items include Styrofoam coffee cups, containers for food and soup and other Styrofoam that breaks down into small plastic beads.
Resident Dick Atlee cited predictions that by 2050, plastic in the ocean will weigh more than the fish living there.
“It’s ecological, it’s the future,” said McLaud. “It’s their future and we owe it to them to do this.”
Water district bond
The project for the raw water station will require a 40-year bond, water and sewer district manager Steve Kenney said. The current raw water station on Long Pond was built in 1890 and some of the pumps within it are 80 to 90 years old.
“We are at the point now where we can not guarantee water if we continue to use this same system,” said Kenney.
Scheduled to begin this fall, the project is expected to cost $500,000 and will initially be covered by the water and sewer district.
A town ordinance was carried over to the district when it was formed that stated residents would help pay any bonds that had a life of 20 or more years. Because that was a town ordinance, it does not apply to the district, which is a quasi-municipal organization.
At the special town meeting, residents will be asked to pay back the long-term bonds, as a town, versus putting the onus on the system’s ratepayers.
Kenney explained the increase to the district’s budget would be 2 percent for the 40 year loan. Payment is expected to be $17,500 a year for the life of the bond.
“It’s a burden for a small group of rate payers,” said one member of the public. “This is Maine and we help each other out in Maine.”