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County Officials Are Looking At Paper Bag Charge Options

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County officials have until the end of February to make a decision on a possible 5 cent paper bag fee once the state’s ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect.

On Monday, Wegmans announced that it will remove all single-use plastic grocery bags from its New York stores starting Monday, Jan. 27.

The removal of plastic bags from Wegmans comes ahead of the state ban that takes effect on March 1. At stores where the county or city choose not to institute a 5-cent fee for paper bags, Wegmans officials announced it will charge 5 cents per paper bag. The amount collected from the paper bag charge will be donated to the local food bank serving each region.

Pierre Chagnon, Chautauqua County Legislature chairman, said Wegmans announcement on Monday stating that it will start its plastic bag ban earlier than the March 1 deadline caught county officials by surprise. He said county officials haven’t discussed what they will do as far as the possible 5-cent charge for paper bags.

In the proposal passed by the state Legislature last April, counties and cities have the option to charge 5 cents for paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents being kept by local governments.

Chagnon said the possible paper bag fee is not a topic on agendas for upcoming county committee meetings next week or the legislature’s voting session meeting Jan. 22. However, he said that could change.

“It’s not on any agendas at this point. It certainly could be discussed by committees next week,” he said.

PJ Wendel, county executive, said he supports Wegmans proposal to donate the 5 cents for paper bags to local food banks. However, he said county officials will have to discuss what their options are once the plastic bag ban goes into effect.

“This is something we are going to have to look at,” he said. ” We will have to look at the cost benefits. The revenue potential. It’s a big question we will have to ask before we make any judgment or ruling. I’ll leave it to the county Legislature to find the best avenue for the county.”

Eddie Sundquist, Jamestown mayor, said city officials will have to communicate with county officials before making any decision.

“As a city, we are going to wait to see if the county will have a bag tax. It will impact our decision as well,” he said. “We don’t want the city to charge a fee and the county to also charge a fee. We want to coordinate with the county.”

Sundquist said he believes moving away from plastic bags in the city is an important step because of the ecosystem that lives along waterways in the city.

“Especially being a city along the Chadakoin River that has a population of turtles and other animals,” he said.

The state ban was first proposed nearly two years ago as an environmental measure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation website, consumers can use any type of reusable bag, such as one made of cloth.

Some bags are exempt under the law, so plastic bags may still be distributed to consumers in a few specific circumstances, such as a bag used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs, and produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables.

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