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Graham proposes plastic bag ban
Tree City USA (Web).jpg
Members of Camden City Council and the Camden Parks and Trees Commission show off a banner designating Camden as a Tree City USA for the 31st consecutive year. From left are Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford; Regional Urban Forester Lois Edwards; commissioners Jane Miller, Bob Williams, Diana Wenman, Barbara Willens and Mike Eddings; Camden Urban Forester Liz Gilland; and (back row) council members Jeffrey Graham, Deborah Davis, Stephen Smoak and Joanna Craig. - photo by Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Camden City Councilman Jeffrey Graham would like to see single-use plastic bags disappear from stores located in the city limits. Speaking during Tuesday night’s Camden City Council meeting’s “other business,” Graham proposed holding a public hearing in two weeks in order for citizens and merchants to comment on a proposed ordinance and then possibly having council consider first reading of such an ordinance two weeks after that.

Graham said he thought of bringing the proposal forward after attending a recent municipal conference.

“I believe this is something we need to pursue and study,” Graham said. “Plastic bags are a problem. They’re a problem for the environment. They’re a problem for our sewer system. They’re a problem for the looks -- next time you’re out at Walmart or one of the other places, look at the bags. They even give warnings on the back about plastic.”

Graham said he had read an article earlier in the day about water quality being affected by plastic bag waste.

“This was about North Carolina not caring about the water quality they send down to South Carolina. Obviously, this affects our waterway and Lake Wateree. One of the things that I think is important -- and I hope my colleagues feel the same -- is that our waterways are important and that what we send down the Wateree River ultimately winds to these coastal cities and all the way into the ocean,” Graham said.

He said he has seen, first-hand, plastic bags along the Wateree River, along the way to the county landfill and “about everywhere you can think of … there are thousands of these bags.”

Graham said other areas of the state, mainly coastal cities, have already enacted such bans, that others are looking at doing so, and that the state legislature is looking at possible state-level measures.

Councilman Stephen Smoak questioned the order in which Graham wanted to proceed, noting that council usually holds a public hearing on certain matters between first and second readings.

Graham said he wanted to hold a public hearing even before first reading in order to gauge whether or not it is even worth having council consider the ban. He also said he would like to see the ban -- if the ordinance were to be passed -- go into effect six months after being passed, or even perhaps as soon as July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. Graham also noted there are already alternatives to plastic bags for shoppers.

“Some of them already have options out there, but choose not to use them,” he said. “Most of your big grocery providers -- they actually have paper (bags) already available, or they have canvas bags available, tote bags, if you will.

Councilwoman Joanna Craig suggested there might be exceptions.

“Absolutely. There are some exemptions that these other cities have used,” Graham said, adding that he would provide a sample ordinance to city staff in order to draft a proposed ordinance for citizens coming to the public hearing.

Drakeford suggested that the city shouldn’t rush to enforce the ban immediately after passing the ordinance. She and several other council members suggested enacting it next Jan. 1 or after a full 12 months would give merchants time to convert from plastic to other materials.

“We want them to see this as a solution as well,” Councilwoman Deborah Davis said, referring to merchants.

Graham agreed, but also said that right now, single-use plastic bags are going straight to landfills.

“Nobody collects these anymore -- there’s no recycling,” he said. “Walmart, Kmart, all the other places that used to take them back, they no longer take them back. So, if you’re taking them there, they’re just throwing them in the trash.”

Also, during Tuesday’s meeting, Downtown Camden Main Street Program Director Kat Spadacenta announced that the program is on track to be state and nationally accredited by Jan. 1, 2020.

“We have entered our third and final year of what Main Street South Carolina refers to you as the ‘boot camp’ phase,” Spadacenta said. “Most notably, they pointed to the strong branding of the downtown program and the overall communication of what is going on downtown and what the Main Street program is to downtown.”

Spadacenta said Main Street South Carolina recently provided a report on Camden’s program, touching on its strengths, including “storytelling.”

“Particularly because it has been picked up and shared on several occasions by the national Main Street center on both their website and social media. Also, our weekend lineup -- the ‘what to do downtown’ -- that is posted every week that is shared regularly by local agencies as well as by the Olde English District on their social media. They were very impressed with the communication that was going on downtown,” Spadacenta said.

Additionally, she said Main Street S.C. noted workshops that have been held for small business owners. Also, the state organization was impressed, Spadacenta said, with the branding of downtown as a “place to be.” She listed off 19 events that were held downtown during 2018, with many of them taking place on the Town Green, which is in the heart of the downtown district.

“So, we were busy,” she said, before listing “design and place-making” as other positives Main Street S.C. noted in its report. “Notably, the alley project, which earned the AARP Livable Community’s grant award, and the continuation of that project through community art and seasonal installations. The next one is coming up. We will be participating in the Equus Film Festival’s Marley’s Roundup next Saturday, the 23rd, and the children’s art created during that event will be installed in the alley prior to the (Carolina) Cup weekend.

Spadacenta said Main Street S.C. was also impressed with the city’s façade grant program, which preceded its entry into the Main Street program. She then went on to list some statistics, specifically investments made in the community tied to the Main Street program from 2018.

“More than $17,000 were paid out in façade grants in 2018, and that is part of a larger number of $875,000 in private investment on 21 rehabilitated downtown buildings, and that does not even quantify the other, minor renovations that may have been done without a need for a permit…. We saw 16 new businesses open in downtown Camden in 2018 creating 44 jobs in the process and I should note this is only brick and mortar business and that does not account for the microbusinesses we see popping up in downtown,” Spadacenta said.

Those include vendors renting spaces inside other businesses, as well as at the Kershaw County Farmers Market and food trucks.

Overall, Spadacenta said the combination of public and private investment in 2018 -- including such big projects as the Camden Tennis Center and Pickleball Plaza, and Broad Street repaving by the S.C. Department of Transporation -- totaled $5 million.

In other business Tuesday, council:

• accepted the city’s 31st consecutive designation as a Tree City U.S.A. (see photo);

• unanimously passed second and final reading of an ordinance amending and adding certain provisions to Chapter 130 (“Offenses Against Public Peace and Safety”) of the city code specifically dealing with resisting arrest and the physical interference of any police officer, public official or public employee;

• unanimously passed second readings of two ordinances assigning final zoning classification of R-10 and R-15 to adjoining properties recently annexed by the city along John G. Richards Road (S.C. 97) that are slated to be developed into residential subdivisions;

• unanimously passed second and final reading of an ordinance assigning commercial mixed use zoning to the parcels making up the River Oaks Shopping Center on West DeKalb Street;

• unanimously resolved to authorize the consumption of beer and wine during the upcoming Irish Fest; and

• unanimously appointed former Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther to the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission with a term to expire Aug. 31, 2022.

Council also entered into executive session for a legal briefing related to the discussion of contractual matters, but took no action after coming back into the open session.