Plastic straw ban draws more discussion
September 4, 2019
ISLAMORADA — A second showdown over a crackdown on plastic straws could return to Islamorada.
“Any difference we make is a step in the right direction,” Vice Mayor Mike Forster said at the Aug. 29 meeting of the Islamorada Village Council. “The time has come where we can make some progress.”
Key West City Commissioners on Aug. 20 voted 7-0 on a first reading of an ordinance seeking to ban plastic straws. A second hearing will be scheduled.
A year ago, the Islamorada board passed a plastic straw ban on first reading, then backed off following a subsequent hearing when several business owners objected. Some straw advocates contended alternatives to plastic straws just don’t measure up.
Islamorada then crafted a non-binding resolution urging environmental education and voluntary reduction of single-use plastics.
“We talked about education before, but I don’t know where it went,” Forster said. “It went nowhere.”
Key West may have borrowed much of its ordinance language from Islamorada Village Attorney Roget Bryan’s 2018 draft ordinance, Forster said.
“I’m asking that we follow in the footsteps of Key West,” he said. “I’m looking at the right way to go countywide.”
Council members acknowledged very few non-commercial littering cases have ever been filed in the village, if any.
Islamorada councilmen members Ken Davis and Jim Mooney expressed doubts.
“It gets godawful convoluted,” Mooney said. “How do we enforce things we literally cannot enforce?”
Islamorada’s ban on releasing balloons that can wind up in the ocean or mangroves was cited several times as a law with little practical effect.
Davis said he prefers an awareness campaign to protect nearshore waters rather than an ordinance.
“I don’t believe we have to pass an ordinance. We can push [environmental education] and get it done,” he said.
“We need to reduce plastics and trash in water,” Mayor Deb Gillis said. “It’s about the health of the water, the turtles, the whales, a little bit of everything. … We have to do as much as we can, even if it’s baby steps.”
Kelly Cox, an Islamorada resident who serves as attorney for the nonprofit Miami Waterkeepers, said communities target plastic straws as a symbol because state lawmakers have enacted regulations that stop local governments from banning single-use bags and Styrofoam containers.
“It’s about the only thing you can regulate right now,” Cox told the council.
Fishing guide Matt Bellinger, a member of Islamorada Near Shore Water Regulation Advisory Committee, said plastics that wind up in the ocean or bay contaminate the ecosystem and could pose a health threat to fish and people who eat fish.
“You’ve got to attack it,” Bellinger said. “Maybe you didn’t want to hurt your friends’ feelings, but it’s time to hurt their feelings. You can’t get on my boat with plastics now.”
The village attorney said he would review the 2018 resolution to see if it can be strengthened.