Warren County plastic bag law on the table again

A plastic bag lies along the railroad tracks in Saranac Lake in September 2018. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

QUEENSBURY — A group of Warren County supervisors want to go ahead with a countywide plastic bag ban, even with Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposing a statewide ban as part of his 2019-2020 budget.

The county board’s Legislative & Rules Committee opted last week to set a public hearing for a revamped county law that would ban stores and other businesses from using single-use plastic bags.

The Board of Supervisors had put the brakes on a proposed ban last October after concerns were raised about certain aspects of the legislation. But the new version passed muster with the Legislative & Rules Committee on Thursday, and at the suggestion of county Administrator Ryan Moore, the committee agreed to delay a public hearing for a month to see what happens with Cuomo’s proposal.

Some supervisors questioned why the county board would go ahead with its own version when Cuomo has taken significant steps toward a statewide ban. The county board requested last year that the state pass a ban during one of the debates on the subject.

“We sent a resolution to the governor asking him to do this, now we’re going to get in front of him,” Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson said.

The law, which was drawn up by Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, who is a lawyer, has had a variety of incarnations over the past two years as supervisors and the public have debated it.

The proposal drew mixed reactions, with more in favor of the ban than against it, at a public hearing last September. The Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce was among those opposed to it, as its leaders were concerned about the impact on tourism and the lack of positive effects.

The latest version addresses some of the concerns, as it would allow businesses to use their inventory of branded bags that they have accumulated, and also creates an appeal process for a business that wants to argue it needs to use plastic bags.

Stores that are found to violate the law would be given two weeks to comply, then would face a fine of up to $500 for a violation. The county Department of Weights & Measures is to enforce it.

A variety of dates have been suggested for the law to take effect, but most supervisors favored a start on Jan. 1, 2020, with education efforts ahead of enactment to make sure the public is aware and prepared.

Queensbury resident Pam Reed told supervisors she believes the county should take action on its own.

“I don’t believe we should wait around for the governor,” she said.

Moore said that any action taken by the governor will “pre-empt” the county law.

The proposed county law would ban single-use plastic bags that have been deemed a major environmental problem, clogging sewer lines, polluting water bodies and winding up on roadsides and in trees.

Shoppers and stores would have to make other arrangements, such as reusable bags or boxes. Similar laws have been enacted around the state and other parts of the country, but critics claim the bans cause more problems then they solve.

The public hearing will be held at the April 19 Board of Supervisors meeting.