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Council agrees to #stopsucking — on straws

The plastic straw ban was approved Monday.

November 6, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council took a step for sea life at Monday's meeting.

Council members agreed to #stopsucking on plastic straws, that is.

In a 4-to-1 vote, the council approved a ban on plastic straws on Fort Myers Beach, prohibiting the distribution of these items at hotels, restaurants and stores. Instead, businesses are regulated to use biodegradable paper straws.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore said the town was joining the ranks of the #stopsucking movement, a social media movement bringing awareness to the pollution caused by plastic straws and encourage people to stop using single-use plastic straws in drinks.

Beach resident Eddie Foster stood at the podium during public comment for many meetings to beg the town to take this action; but on Monday, she finally got to give the members praise.

"I'm proud of you," she said.

Fact Box

Meeting Minutes

Brief highlights from the Nov. 6 Town Council meeting

Magic Sand Kingdom: LeeTran proposed a new addition to public transportation on the beach, a free hop-on tram similar to those at Disney theme parks. Look for the full story in the Nov. 8 Observer.

Extra Extra: the newsrack ordinance regulating the placement, specifications and visibility of newspaper stands on the island was tabled to a later date. Mayor Dennis Boback originally requested an ordinance to help regulate the aesthetics and public safety of the island's newsstands, but the result was too restrictive. None of the council members wanted to move forward to approve the ordinance; instead, it was tabled and Boback will meet with the local newspapers to get input on a solution that would work for the island and the media.

Beach traffic: Town Manager Roger Hernstadt updated the town on the status of town vehicles on the beach, as rumors had been spreading that the B.A.S.E. beach patrol was getting pulled off the beach. Earlier in the year, the council asked Rae Burns, environmental technician, to do an assessment of the town's use of the beach as a boulevard bypass and make suggestions. Hernstadt said as a result, staff is looking into using more environmentally-friendly electric vehicles and reduction in the number of trips taken out on the sand, but patrol was ongoing and was not being completely pulled from beach.

Lessons learned: At its Thursday, Nov. 9 management and planning session, council will undergo a debriefing discussion with staff about Hurricane Irma's impacts, what went well and what could be improved for future disasters. The town used CodeRed, an emergency alert system that can send out messages to those subscribed via email, voicemail and smartphone app. It was billed $19,000 by the company, but Hernstadt said town staff was able to negotiate with CodeRed to reduce the bill to $4,950 and set up an annual fee it would pay to be able to use unlimited CodeRed alerts.

But her campaign hasn't ended; now that straws have been defeated, she's moving on to the next enemy.

"I'm known as the straw lady, soon to be known as the bag lady," she said.

Council Member Anita Cereceda voted nay - because she believed more could be done by the town to reduce its contribution to microplastic pollution.

"What we're trying to say is we're environmentally conscious," she said. "We should be talking about litter in general. We've got water bottle caps, bottles, bags, and we're singling out straws."

The plastic straw ban came to council as a recommendation from the Marine Resources Task Force in June, after the town asked the advisory board to research a ban in March.

Plastic straws cannot be picked up by beach rakes and can pose a dangerous hazard to wildlife.

Plastic straws take hundreds of years to decompose. According to Ocean Conservancy, a conservation advocacy group focused on the world's oceans, plastics have been found in the stomachs of 62 percent of seabirds. The 2016 International Coastal Cleanup tally revealed that plastic straws are in the top ten most-found litter items around the world. With many waterside restaurants, Fort Myers Beach's sand is often a haven for the clear plastic straws, which are harmful to anything from seat turtles to shorebirds. A few years ago, a video circulated on social media can give an example: in 2015, biologists in Costa Rica pulled a straw from a sea turtle's nostril cavity.

"We've got to start somewhere. It ought to be bigger and better, but we have to stop filling up landfills with stuff that shouldn't be there," Council Member Bruce Butcher said.

The town's ban eliminates the distribution of plastic straws with a few exceptions such as prepackaged food items or straws brought in from elsewhere. Some worried the enforcement would be difficult, but Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said the ordinance focused on banning straws from the beach's top suppliers rather than individuals, and if someone was found using a plastic straw on the beach it would most likely start as an educational warning, not an immediate $100 citation.

"We're not going to chase down your grandchildren with their juice boxes," Council Member Joanne Shamp said.

While the ordinance goes into effect immediately, businesses, restaurants and other entities have 90 days to replace inventory with paper or natural items before the prohibition begins.

Shamp said she hopes the town can now direct MRTF to tackle other items that contribute to plastic pollution.

"We're not singling out straws, we're starting with straws," Gore said.



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