Not Everyone in Stafford Favors Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags

Opinions Vary on Pavilion as Solution for Mill Creek Road
Mar 07, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

“I hope these businesses sue you like you’ve never been sued before,” Ocean Acres resident Russ Davis told the Stafford Township mayor and council. That’s how upset he is about the proposed ordinance, introduced at the Jan. 13 meeting, to ban single-use carryout bags, which follows the lead of Long Beach Township, whose ban takes effect May 1. The second reading, public hearing and vote on the ordinance are scheduled for June 12, but that won’t stop people who feel passionately from speaking their minds during public comment.

Davis predicts businesses will lose money when customers, frustrated upon finding themselves unprepared, abandon their full shopping carts at checkout. He said he personally plans to drive to the Barnegat Acme or the Waretown ShopRite to do his shopping from now on, “where I don’t have to put up with that,” he said. (By “that,” he means being responsible for bringing his own reusable bags for his groceries.) He doesn’t want to “become a hoarder” by having to store so many cloth totes.

“I don’t understand why you’re so wound up about these single-use plastic bags,” he said. If only roughly 200 towns so far have banned the bags, out of the tens of thousands of municipalities in the United States, Davis reasoned, why should Stafford bother?

At least one council member is on Davis’ side – Councilman Steven Jeffries, who has publicly stated his opposition to overbearing ordinances and his belief that government, while necessary, should not impose unnecessary restrictions.

When Councilman Dave Taylor said even those who don’t like the ban can at least agree that it’s beneficial to the environment and bay, Jeffries spoke up: “That’s not the feedback I got.”

In Jeffries’ opinion, the language of the ordinance is one-sided and lacks perspective, written with the intention “to create fear and guilt.” It mentions the resources and greenhouse gases associated with making plastic bags, but fails to mention it costs 50 percent more in resources and creates 70 percent more hazardous waste to recycle paper (to remove inks and turn paper into cardboard).

“But you can use a canvas bag,” Councilwoman Sharon McKenna pointed out.

Landlocked towns might not make a plastic bag ban a priority, Taylor said, but for Southern Ocean County, “the ocean and bay make this area what it is.”

Jeffries agrees Barnegat Bay is a valuable resource deserving of protection, but “these plastic bags aren’t destroying the bay,” he said. The public has a responsibility, he said, to prevent litter and not let their plastic bags and Styrofoam cups litter the streets and end up in the bay.

He referenced an email in which the mayor “specifically tells somebody ‘this is only the beginning.’” Jeffries’ concern is “we’re going to end up like California if we don’t stand up to it.”

California enacted a statewide ban on plastic bags last year, and polystyrene is poised to be next. Over 40 countries have already banned plastic bags, Spodofora said.

Spodofora clarified he meant “this is only the beginning of the problem.”

Regarding Stafford Township’s proposed ban, he said, “The purpose is to educate people and try to have a start on reducing the amount of plastics that end up in the ocean.”

Microplastics and nanoplastics in the ocean are not from single-use bags, Davis said. And anyway, he added, China is responsible for two-thirds of the world’s ocean pollution – “not little bitty Stafford Township polluting Barnegat Bay.”

It’s a starting point, officials said.

“Starting point from what? We don’t pollute!” Davis said.

After several minutes of debate between Spodofora and Davis, council members quietly urged Spodofora to “disengage” and “let it go.”

“You’re entitled to believe what you want,” Spodofora told Davis, who vowed to return and have his piece heard June 12.

*   *   *

The council adopted on second reading the bond ordinance authorizing this year’s $4.9 million capital budget, which includes improvements to Mill Creek Park in the form of an open-air public restroom pavilion, to the tune of just over a quarter-million dollars.

Township Administrator James Moran said the restrooms, similarly to parks elsewhere in the town, will include three stalls and two sinks in the ladies’ room, and one stall and two urinals in the men’s room. Bathrooms will be started in spring, with work being done in-house. Hopefully they will be open for use by summer, along with the tennis and basketball courts, and the community garden and landscaping along the waterfront area.

The town would like to bulkhead that waterfront, Moran noted, but it’s over $1 million, so it’s not a small project. “But it’s something we have considered and do believe will happen.” New Jersey owns the waterway, so it’s difficult to get permits. The DEP had denied a permit application several years ago. Stafford put riprap there, but will continue arguing for bulkhead approval. In the meantime, the park is functional as it is, he said.

Beach Haven West Civic Association President Dawn Papatheodorou asked the governing body why no needs assessment had been conducted for an additional, if smaller, community center on Mill Creek Road. It was explained that when officials talked about doing a needs assessment, they meant after the Pine Street building was up and running long enough to get a sense of whether the residents’ recreation and civic needs were being sufficiently met by the new Bay Avenue Community Center. Currently the Pine Street building is under renovation. Spodofora said he could find no compelling need for another community center facility on Mill Creek Road at this time.

Papatheodorou asked how residents would contend with mosquitoes at the open-air pavilion. Moran said the park area would be incorporated in the regular mosquito control program.

Beach Haven West resident Jeanine Sciglitano said the planned pavilion is a mere rest area and “a far cry” from the former Mill Creek Road Community Center there before Superstorm Sandy, which was an all-weather destination for local events, meetings and elections. She said a needs assessment should have been done if for no other reason than transparency and respect for public discourse, “in the spirit of honest questioning and answering.” Her comments were met with a smattering of applause.

Beach Haven West residents Phil and Laura Rossi wanted to address rumors about the future of the park. They have heard talk of a boat ramp, a dog park and a skate park – all of which the mayor and council debunked.

Moran said at one time there was a brief discussion about a boat ramp, but there has never been any further action. There is no dog park on the agenda (“We have denied that consistently”) and no skate park. The rumors are based on questions residents ask during public comment, Spodofora said.

Morton Drive resident Heather Kline said she loves the pavilion idea and asked on behalf of herself and her husband, Matthew, both of whom are combat veterans, if it might be possible to name the pavilion in honor of military service personnel. The mayor said he would be in favor of that, and the rest of the council was in agreement.

Matt Kline also spoke in favor of the pavilion. His children and other neighborhood children “love the idea of a place to go and hang out.” That’s what parks are for, he said, not just to look pretty. He believes the pavilion will bring people together, for concerts, festivals, cookouts and year-round activities. In South Jersey, he said, mosquitoes and greenheads just come with the territory. It’s because of the grass. “For people who live near the water: don’t plant grass.”

Kline said he and other community volunteers would be happy to help build greenhead traps.

Jay Hoover of Howard Drive suggested the council has done a disservice to the people of Beach Haven West who have worked hard to advocate for a new community center on Mill Creek. Instead of the needs assessment they were expecting, they got the news by reading a line item in the budget, which Hoover feels was neither respectful or appropriate.

— Victoria Ford

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.