Council Tables Plastic Straw Ordinance

After comments from the public and a robust exchange between Gulfport City Councilmembers that took the bulk of a nearly two-hour meeting on Tuesday, May 15, the citywide plastic straw ban ordinance was tabled in a 3-2 vote.

“We shouldn’t use plastic straws. It’s a great idea, but I don’t think we need to legislate people’s behavior,” said Vice Mayor Christine Brown, who made the motion to table the ordinance after its first reading. “Enforcement would be a nightmare for the police department. I’m in favor of waiting six months” and trying an education campaign with a brochure, as two people suggested during public comment.

“I’m not in a race with St. Pete” to be the first to pass a single-use plastic straw ordinance, she said. Clearwater has recently launched a “strawless summer business challenge. So, they’re doing their campaign. Restaurants should be proud to say, ‘We are plastic strawless.’”

During the April 3 council meeting, Councilmember Michael Fridovich teamed up with a student from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport who made a passionate presentation about the impact of single-use plastic straws on the environment and wildlife. Fridovich then asked council to consider an ordinance to ban single-use plastic straws citywide. On April 17, councilmembers discussed the issue, considered a draft ordinance and requested amended language.

According to the proposed May 15 version of the ordinance, “no business or other establishment at which food or drink is served, purchased or offered within the City of Gulfport shall use, serve or distribute plastic drinking straws on or after the effective date.” Those found distributing single-use plastic straws would be in violation and would be fined $80, which a city memo on the topic says is “comparable to the prohibition of ‘littering.’”

The spirit of the ordinance includes plastic straw distribution in city facilities such as the Gulfport Casino Ballroom and the Catherine A. Hickman Theater, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. It excludes educational or recreational facilities in cases like lunches for children that involve plastic straws being pre-packaged with drink containers or as part of shrink-wrapped meal plates.

In seconding the motion to table the measure, Councilmember Dan Liedtke said, “I still don’t understand why we’re not throwing plastic cutlery in if you’re going to try to ban plastic straws. I don’t think we need to be talking about banning a new plastic item every six months. Let’s get it all on the table. I’m not sure if it’s disingenuous or hypocritical to not include these other items that are found more than plastic straws and are dangerous to sea life.”

Councilmember Paul Ray provided the third vote that indefinitely tabled the ordinance.

In surveying local restaurant owners, “most everybody agreed with some kind of a campaign where they can sign a pledge to say they are not going to offer straws,” said Ray. “A campaign is a far better way to go than to create an ordinance” that would have enforcement issues, he said. 

Mayor Sam Henderson and Fridovich voted in favor of the straw ordinance.

“I think the ordinance is necessary so we are all in compliance with the same thing. I’d like to see Gulfport jump ahead and take a firm stand,” said Fridovich. “I’ve contacted every restaurant in Gulfport but one or two, so far. We’ve had one business on Gulfport Boulevard complain. That’s it. Everybody else has either gone ahead with the ban or has no problem with the ban.”

Fridovich said he would also like to see the ordinance wording include a ban of plastic straws on the beach.

According to city staff, the wording of the current ordinance only encompasses distribution of single-use plastic straws and not their usage by individuals in public areas like the municipal beach.

During public comment, Gulfport resident Karen Love said, “I so appreciate the number of people who have raised my consciousness in the last 30 days. I know I’m using a lot less plastic because I’ve gotten educated.”

Love explained, “I don’t think the ordinance goes nearly far enough. As somebody who does beach clean up every single month for the last five years, I probably pick up 10 plastic caps off of water bottles to every straw. I see the caps as a bigger issue than the straws.

“A campaign is a great idea. We all remember Smokey the Bear [saying] ‘Only you can prevent forest fires.’ We could do something [similar] with the gecko talking to us.”

In summing up the topic, Henderson said, “I really enjoyed our conversation tonight. Even though I’m unhappy with the outcome, I think that’s the way it’s done. I want to thank everybody for taking part and I appreciate what everybody had to say.”

PSTA Trolley Donation Possible Pending Replacement

Recently, O’Reilly and Fridovich met with staff from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and discussed the group’s willingness to donate the trolley they are currently leasing to Gulfport for use as the showcase piece in the Trolley Market Square park project being built in the city’s 49th Street South business corridor adjacent to Tangerine Avenue South.

“They are looking for a replacement of the existing trolley and if they are successful, they will donate” the old one to the city, said O’Reilly. The trolley would then become a permanent and non-mobile educational landmark in the park in addition to being modified to serve refreshments during events.

The city has budgeted about $100,000 to acquire a trolley to use as the focal point of the park project.

“It’s was very exciting” to find out about their efforts, said O’Reilly. If the PSTA can make the donation, the city would acknowledge their contribution to the park with some form of recognition.

July 3 Meeting Canceled

To allow time for a variety of festivities building up to the July 4 holiday, councilmembers agreed with a recommendation by Henderson to cancel their Tuesday, July 3 regular meeting. Topics relating to the 2018-2019 fiscal budget discussion originally scheduled as part of the July 3 agenda will be included in other meetings.

From June 5 through September 18, the budget will be a part of each council meeting agenda. The second reading and vote on the ordinance adopting the 2019 fiscal year’s operating budget will take place on September 18.

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