Jackson plastic bag ban vote delayed

JACKSON — The concerns of small business owners won out in the end, prompting the Jackson Town Council to postpone a decision on the plastic-bag ban it has contemplated for months.

Monday was set to be the third reading of a law that would rid Jackson of single-use plastic bags and impose a fee on paper bags. But with one councilor absent and the other four split down the middle, the tie resulted in a delay of the final vote until the new council takes over in January.

“I haven’t heard a small retailer say that they are comfortable [with the ban],” outgoing Councilor Don Frank said, “and we don’t know how many small retailers are going to be caught between our very, very good intentions … and a real financial loss.”

Last-minute opposition came from Sean Love, owner of Jackson Trading Company and a former Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce president, who argued the town didn’t do enough outreach beyond the large grocers while preparing the ban.

“The way in which this is being enacted, the arbitrary nature,” he said, “I just can’t sit by and not say anything.”

He said the lack of input shows in the provisions of the law, which he said would leave him and other businesses with years of bags in stock, essentially valueless. He compared that to eminent domain.

Assistant Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno said similar issues have arisen in courts dating back to the 1800s but generally have been struck down.

Wes Gardner, owner of Teton Toys, acknowledged the problems Love raised but said he’s satisfied with the ban as it stands.

“I recognize that it’s going to be a real pain for me and my employees, and for hundreds of other owners and their employees,” he said. “But I think you’ve created an ordinance that is fair and sets a nice level playing field.”

Councilor Bob Lenz has persistently opposed the timeline of the ban, saying next fall is far too soon for small businesses to exhaust their bag supplies. Frank’s reservations swayed him as well, and, he said, Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson asked him to delay the decision until she could be there to vote.

With Frank and Lenz — the two main voices of hesitation — both leaving the council, the final call will go to their successors, Arne Jorgensen and Jonathan Schechter, at the next meeting Jan. 7.

The ban would impose a 20-cent fee on paper bags, as well as on reusable plastic bags. The revenue would be split evenly between business owners and the town, which would funnel it into reusable plastic bag distribution and sustainability education through Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling.

Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilor Jim Stanford both wholeheartedly support the ban as it stands, trusting the extensive research done by town staffers, who have studied similar bans.

Stanford said the elimination of environmentally harmful waste is worth the sacrifice of businesses that have hoarded bags.

“I’m sure somebody got stuck with lot of leaded gasoline,” Stanford said. “Maybe had a warehouse full of asbestos at some point.”

He recalled a recent ski trip on which he found a plastic bag at the top of a mountain and said Public Works employees breaking ice on Flat Creek discovered a bag “entombed, frozen in the ice.”

“This is the world we are creating, and we’re trying to take just a small step to stem off some of the worst degradation,” he said. “This is what our state, our community is becoming, and the more time we push this down the road the more it’s going to fester. There is no greater education and awareness tool than this council taking action.”