Archive for September, 2012

Plastic bag on a South Padre Island beach

By Madeleine Sandefur

Co-Chair, LRGV Sierra Club Sustainability Committee

What do Honolulu, Austin, Brownsville, South Padre Island and Laguna Vista have in common?  “Laguna what?” you might say–and that would be completely understandable, as our little town is not even listed on most Texas maps. We don’t even have our own zip code; we share one with our neighbor, Port Isabel.

However, we do have this in common with the more recognizable cities mentioned above: we recently banned plastic bags from our community!

I’ll be the first to admit that it is much easier to get plastic bags banned in a smaller community than in a large city.  What helped our cause is that I asked our city manager a year and a half ago to form an Environmental Quality Committee.  Initially, our aim was to have Laguna Vista declared a “Cool City,” when the Sierra Club was working on that initiative, and we did get that accomplished.  On the very evening when the town council voted affirmatively on that item, I was enormously lucky to meet two very dedicated “greenies” who agreed not only to serve with me on that committee, but they later joined the LRGV Sierrans:  Yolanda and Walter Birdwell.

At first, progress on some of the Cool City goals was painfully slow and oftentimes frustrating.  I believe what helped us was patience, persistence, and showing our willingness to help with other projects the city wanted to accomplish.  For example, we volunteered to organize Earth Day events for two years running.  We helped with a youth workshop the city manager co-hosted with another environmental organization.

Little by little, the city manager realized that we didn’t just talk the talk, we walked the walk; we were DOERS.  In meeting after meeting, we brought up the subject of a bag ban, and we encountered resistance.  We argued that it would be a lot easier to put a ban in place now, when there were very few active businesses, rather than waiting for what surely will be a flurry of new development when the Second Causeway will land practically at our doorstep.  In fact, that’s where some of the resistance came in; they were afraid that it would keep businesses from setting up shop.

Finally, we took the initiative and did a survey.  It was in three parts: two in-person ones (one at the recycling station on a Saturday morning; the other going door-to-door in a neighborhood), and one was conducted by e-mail.  It showed that 87% of those questioned were IN FAVOR of a ban.  We also knew that the only convenience store in town, Stripes, was already subject to a ban in Brownsville and South Padre Island, and we had been advised that we would not encounter any resistance on that front.

Armed with this knowledge, and with support from the chair of the Parks Committee and her husband (who happens to be a city councilman), we again approached our city manager and asked him to put the item on the agenda.  The clincher was when apparently, our city manager contacted the Stripes’ area manager and asked him how he would feel about a ban, and he apparently told him “Do it!”

And so it was that the ordinance “banning the use of plastic carry-out bags within  the corporate limits of the Town of Laguna Vista” was approved unanimously on first and second reading, and will be in effect on a voluntary basis from today until January 1, 2013, when it will become mandatory.


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