• Council overrides the mayor’s veto to pass the plastic bag ordinance
By Naomi Klouda
The ban on plastic grocery bags was voted back in Monday night after a packed public turned out to tell the Homer City Council overwhelmingly of their support.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, was a petition circulated at Ulmer’s, Kachemak Gear Shed and Spenard Builders Supply that collected 363 signatures of those opposed to upholding the ban on plastic grocery bags.
Dan Gardner, who submitted the petition, wrote “many signers objected to the ordinance, not only based on disagreement with the premise, but more importantly with the manner in which this decision was imposed on the whole community without a vote.”
Dozens more wrote letters praising the ban, which the mayor had vetoed after the council passed it in a 4-2 vote on Aug. 27. Mayor Jim Hornaday decided his veto on Sept. 7.
Even after weeks of discussion, Homer residents weren’t finished weighing in on the topic. When Brenda Dolma, the first to testify, asked for everyone in support of a ban to stand in the packed council chambers, most of the roughly 50 people stood. The meeting then went on for an hour of public testimony, most of it focused on the bag ordinance. Many came bearing arguments bolstered by statistics.
Lee Post, co-owner of the Homer Bookstore, told the council “it’s obscene what’s going on” with plastics, which takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce a year. Lee’s research shows bags are banned in 21 countries, including China, Japan, Sweden and Germany. They’re banned in 80 cities, including “obscure places” like Washington D.C.
“I’ve never thought of Homer as a chicken little town. We were the first town to ban nuclear power,” Lee concluded.
In the end, the council retained the same four supporters to achieve the four-vote requirement to override the mayor’s veto. Beau Burgess and David Lewis, who sponsored the measure, Francie Roberts and Bryan Zak all voted yes. Barbara Howard and Beth Wythe remained unconvinced and voted no.
Wythe opposed the ban on the grounds it makes a conscious decision on the public’s behalf, as opposed to letting them make that decision on their own. “A lot of people, that’s what they are telling you they don’t want.”
But Burgess said there’s time between passage and implementation, Jan. 1, to tinker with the ordinance. “This only restricts sellers from using one specific bag. Retailers can use up all the bags past the beginning date. This is not the Gestapo of plastic bags.”
• Gas build out: Enstar has submitted a map showing the distribution line, including the Homer Spit. City Manager Walt Wrede told the council Enstar believes it can complete the distribution system in two years. A map now available on the city’s website shows roads in color coded white are to be targeted the first year and those coded yellow in year two. In the initial survey of the Homer Spit, Enstar found it will be less costly to build the line there, at $24 a foot because it’s a flatter and larger area. But since there are fewer users on the Spit, its costs won’t be spread out as well as in more densely populated neighborhoods, Wrede said.
The council approved the proposed natural gas distribution system special assessment district presented on the map.
• Public bathrooms: The council approved purchasing land on Bunnell Street for $106,000 to build a new public restroom. Cruise ship head tax money will be used to help pay the cost.
• The council approved a measure to update the Homer Educational Recreational Center, the old junior high, to bring it up to code. Once this is done, it can be leased to a broader spectrum of community nonprofits.
• Asia Freeman, Brianna Allen and Sharon Whytal updated the council on plans for Old Town. A collaborative group, working with a $5,000 People’s Garden Grant, are working on beautification and safety features that could use city participation. “We want the city to think about safety, like on the Spit where people walk pellmell through the road.” Plans are progressed enough the collaborators will need city input, they said.
• Patrick Chandler, the special programs coordinator at the Center for Coastal Studies, reported on the marine debris washing up on Alaska’s coasts. After a summer of beach debris cleanup, there is concern about the huge amount of styrofoam and polyurethane housing insulation. “We found hundreds of giant aquaculture buoys. Hundreds of fuel canisters are coming this way.”
There’s a problem with disposing of huge amounts of debris. “There will be a problem in multiple communities because we just don’t have a place for it.” If left on beaches, it breaks up in small enough pieces to be ingested by birds and marine mammals. He encouraged the public to volunteer for Coast Walk, which assigns a zone for beach cleanup to individuals. Last year, 800 people gathered more than 7,000 pounds of trash.
• Tidal Incubator project: Rep. Paul Seaton and Kris Holdried of NOAA told the council about a tidal energy incubator project that will go in at the Homer Deep Water Dock. This solves a problem for companies that want to a test system for tidal power. Homer would be the on the cutting edge in making the monitoring system available on the road system for research.
Holderied said Homer already has a lot of what they look for: Tidal currents close to transmission lines. Infrastructure, and back bone information on sea floor mapping, current meter data from NOAA from 10 turbines installed this summer. The data will be available soon from the 10 turbines. A lot of other data on weather and water monitoring is part of it, from Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
“We also have fantastic marine trades in Homer. That’s the extra resource here to help make it happen,” Holderied said.
• The mayor honored the Homer Volunteer Fire Department on the anniversary of their 60th year. There will be an open house celebration on Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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