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Apr 25, 2012 10:56 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Continues To Debate Plastic Bags; Bulds Surpluses

Apr 25, 2012 11:12 AM

As a new effort to educate the public on how to keep plastic grocery bags out of the natural environment got under way, members of the Southampton Town Board continued to spar over how aggressively the town plans to act to halt the problem.

Last weekend, Town Board members Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera kicked off a townwide education program intended to highlight the damage done by discarded bags and promote recycling and the use of reusable bags by residents. The two lawmakers, along with members of a town sustainable practices committee and the task force of business representatives who drafted the educational program, kicked off the “A Greener Southampton—The Solution Is In the Bag” campaign on Saturday at the Stop & Shop in Hampton Bays.

But on Tuesday night, fellow lawmakers continued to raise doubts about how the success of the program would be measured, and pressed for a blanket ban on the use of plastic bags in the town, as has been done in two local villages.

“Everyone has been very actively participating,” Ms. Scalera said on Tuesday night after being pressed by resident Mackie Finnerty, an advocate for the bag ban, about the progress toward eliminating bags from the environment. “We’re asking everybody to please take the pledge. Our goal is a 15-percent increase [in recycling] over the first year.”

“At 15 percent a year, I’ll be dead before you get there,” Ms. Finnerty quipped.

Councilwoman Bridget Flemming said that a 15-percent increase in recycling of the plastic bags was a far cry from the goal of complete elimination of the bags from the environment and said she doubted whether the education effort could ever achieve that goal, regardless of whether it met its modest goals for the first year.

“I’ve said from the beginning, I don’t think the education system works—I wish you all the best, but based on what we’ve seen across the country, education doesn’t work. You have to just say, you can’t use the bags,” she said. “Fifteen percent is not enough. It’s a very, very small way toward our ultimate goal.”

Ms. Scalera said that 100-percent elimination of bags from the environment and a reduction in the amount of bags used by town residents was the ultimate goal. She said that local grocery stores have already pledged to begin purchasing fewer bags, with an eye toward encouraging their customers to use more reusable bags.

“We’re all on the same page as the goal,” she said, acquiescing that if the education program does not show results, the ban could be revisited down the road.

“I don’t think we are all on the same page if we think that 15 percent is a success rate,” Ms. Flemming countered.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Ms. Flemming had introduced a complete ban on the use of plastic bags in the town late last year, but the measure was voted down by Ms. Scalera, Mr. Nuzzi and Councilman Jim Malone. Southampton Village and East Hampton Village have both banned the use of plastic grocery bags in the last year.

Mr. Malone noted that the education approach would be the only way to really eliminate bags from the environment, since, even if the town did enact a ban, town residents will still be shopping outside of Southampton, where bags would be allowed.

“If people aren’t changing their habits, I don’t know how we’re going to have the effect that we intended,” Mr. Malone said. “People don’t just live in Southampton.”

Comptroller Applauds Reforms

New Southampton Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese applauded the town’s turnaround from the financial tangles it had been in just two years ago in his first monthly report to the Town Board on Tuesday evening.

“I have to say, I haven’t seen a town turn around as quick as you guys turned this around,” Mr. Marchese said. “Not only are your fund balances not negative, most of them are in excess of the fund balance policies that you set, and those are in excess of [state requirements].”

Mr. Marchese said that his department had just finished filing its audits for 2011 and had found the town to be in good financial shape overall—a contrast to the multimillions in deficits and depleted reserves the town faced in 2009 as then Comptroller Tamara Wright’s office uncovered years of disastrous accounting practices and seemingly complete lack of oversight over town funds by prior administrations.

Supervisor Throne-Holst noted that with the state’s new 2-percent cap on tax levies in place for the next four years, the town is going to need the financial wiggle room afforded by fund reserves to protect against unforeseen costs when tax revenues have a hard ceiling.

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