A potential plastic bag ban in Beaufort County is gaining some major steam, but one municipality is holding up the train.
Bluffton Town Council has yet to take an initial vote on the ban, and activists are worried this could put the ban in jeopardy.
Beaufort County passed its plastic bag ban ordinance on second reading last week, leaving only one vote left to lock it in.
County Council has been discussing the ordinance for several months but just added a major amendment at its last meeting: All the Beaufort County municipalities must pass the ordinance before the county passes it.
Over the past two weeks, the Town of Hilton Head Island, city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal each endorsed the ordinance in the first of two votes.
Bluffton Town Council was given a plastic bag presentation by Rikki Parker, South Coast Project Manager for the Coastal Conservation League, but the council has not given it an initial vote.
Bluffton’s slow start to the process could force County Council to push its final vote off for a month or two, which could give the SC Legislature time to put a statewide ban on bans, some activists fear.
Mayor Lisa Sulka said the town’s lack of action at last week’s meeting was due to scheduling, not a lack of support.
“We were just following our own steps of how we get things on the agenda,” Sulka said. “... We suggested the consideration go to the May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee first, and they recommended to bring it to council for a presentation (instead of first reading).”
Sulka said she wants to follow the county’s lead and expects the ordinance to be on the town’s January agenda.
“I have not heard anything negative, but I haven’t spoken to all of Council about it,” she said. “The group may be very supportive and may even be unanimous. If 200 people come out and give compelling reasons why it shouldn’t be passed, I would listen. But I really haven’t seen that here or anywhere else (in the county).
“We know we’re part of a team with the county. ... We’re just going to take it step by step and listen to people.”
County Councilman Brian Flewelling, who voted in support of the ordinance, said the county doesn’t need to pass the ordinance concurrently.
“Most of the support for the effort came from the Bluffton district, so it’s kind of interesting that they’re taking their time,” he said. “But we’ll get to the conversation as quickly as possible. I don’t want to put any undue pressure on the town.”
Flewelling said there’s “no real urgency” to passing it.
“An ordinance like this has such a far-reaching impact,” Flewelling said. “If someone wants to take their time looking at it, who am I to judge that? ... There’s no real difference doing it (passing the ordinance) the last week of January of the third week of February.”
Rikki Parker, however, urges that the issue is time sensitive.
Last year, an effort by the plastic bag industry to prevent local bans on the convenient but polluting sacks was killed in the South Carolina House of Representatives by only a single vote. When the Legislature comes back into session in January, however, the House can pick up where they left it and immediately take a new vote on the bill.
“There’s definitely still urgency. ... The piece of legislation could be passed very quickly,” Parker said. “I think it’s concerning, but I understand they (Bluffton Town Council) wants to give the ordinance thoughtful consideration as well. And I hope they make the same decisions (as the rest of the municipalities).”
The proposed ordinance, which would go into effect eight months after the final municipality passes it, would prohibit all Beaufort County business establishments from providing customers with single-use plastic bags. The ordinance does not impose a tax on the use of plastic products of any kind.
The ban would not include laundry dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags or bags provided by pharmacists or veterinarians to carry prescription drugs.
Any business establishment that violates the ordinance would face a penalty up to $100 for a first violation; $200 for a second violation within any 12-month period; and $500 for each additional violation within any 12-month period.