Cameron Blanchard, 17, asked the Orange Beach City Council to consider a ban on plastic bags in the city....By John Mullen

May 9, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – A report on the environmental damage caused by millions of discarded plastic bags by 17-year-old Cameron Blanchard sparked a lively discussion at the May 7 Orange Beach City Council regular session.

The end result was a pledge from the city to study a ban on plastic bags and movement toward elimination of them from city businesses. A bill in the Alabama Senate to prevent city’s from banning the bags and other single-use plastic products failed to get out of committee on the same day as the city council meeting.

“They make their way into our oceans where they kill more than 100,000 marine animals each year,” Blanchard said. “They can stay in our water from up to 1,000 years. At least eight million tons of plastics get into our oceans each year and a huge component of this is plastic bags.”

Cameron Blanchard wants to help craft and ordinance banning plastic bags in Orange Beach.Blanchard, who attends St. Michael’s Catholic High School in Fairhope first met with officials at the Orange Beach Publix and while finding sympathetic ears couldn’t get the grocery giant to agree to a ban.

“I decided to take the problem to the city level,” Blanchard told the council. “I move that the city of Orange Beach ban plastic bags as a whole to help reduce plastic bags in our oceans and in our Gulf and to take on this great environmental issue giving people the necessary time to adapt to the change.”

Mayor Tony Kennon and other council members said they would be willing to work with Blanchard and others but first wanted her to study how it could be implemented and asked her to report back to the council with a plan.

“How does it work?” Kennon asked. “If I go to Publix and buy groceries do I carry little bags with me? I need to know how that would work.”

Kennon then issued a challenge to Blanchard.

“I love ideas but I like solutions,” Kennon said. “I want you to come back sometime in the near future and tell us how you would institute that.”

Kennon said he was interested in learning more about the program.

“I’m all ears and I’ve got to be educated and from the mayor’s perspective the practicality of how you institute it, how do you make it work,” Kennon said. “And, how do you deal with 100,000 people who show up and don’t necessarily know they don’t have bags. Is there a way to make that pragmatically work? We would love to have your help.”

Blanchard said the program could work similarly to the wildly successful Leave Only Footprints program started in 2015 in a joint effort between Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber and Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.

“When Leave Only Footprints was brought up as an idea my mom said she was very doubtful of its success,” Blanchard said. “At first there was resistance but as time went on it worked out and the project has been great. Tourists know what to expect when they come into town now. I think banning plastic bags can and will be just like that.”

Councilman Jerry Johnson said that program would be the perfect model to implement a plastic bag ban. After the first year of Leave Only Footprints, Johnson said, people acclimated to the new rules and the cost of labor and the amount of stuff cleaned off the beach daily rapidly declined.

“It’s an education process and If we can come up with a marketing plan like we did with Leave Only Footprints and spread it out,” Johnson said. “I know if put all our heads together it can be another success like Leave Only Footprints.”

Blanchard cited efforts by several cities to slowly implement the ban, some taking as much as 18 months for the ban to fully take effect.

After the meeting, Blanchard met with City Administrator Ken Grimes to set up an internship for her this summer to work on crafting how an Orange Beach plastics ban would work.

“My goal during the internship is to establish a concrete plan of action toward an ordinance that would be specific to Orange Beach for banning plastic bags at point-of-sale city-wide,” she said. “Mayor Kennon doesn’t want us to mimic other cities who have done this; he wants an ordinance that is unique to the city of Orange Beach, and I completely agree with him. I would hopefully be able to help draft a brand-new ordinance and find specific ways we can implement it in our cities. A lot of preparation has to be done before the ordinance can pass, but my aim is to have this all done while I’m still a kid, as I turn 18 next February.”

orange beach boat logoDuring the regular session, the council also:

  • OK’d performance contracts with Orange Beach Education Foundation the Makos Academics, Arts & Athletics Club. The groups will apply to the council for funds as needed.
  • OK’d a resolution giving $100,000 to the Orange Beach Education Foundation and $75,000 to MAAAC. During the discussion of the education funding, Wharf General Manager Jim Bibby announced he’d just received a test from Wharf owner Art Favre donating $30,000 cash and $20,000 in in-kind services to the groups.
  • Heard the first reading of an ordinance to raise the mayor’s salary to $75,000, the mayor pro tem’s salary to $19,750 and council member’s salaries to $18,000. The new ordinance also says they will be paid bi-weekly.
  • OK’d a contract with Burk-Kleinpeter for professional engineering design and construction inspection services for the widening of Callaway Drive for about $24,000.
  • Approved a liquor license application for Eddie Boy's Franco's for Ole Franco's Italian Restaurant in the Walmart shopping center.
  • Approved a special events liquor license for Event Concessions for Orange Beach Powerboat Week at The Wharf May30-June 1.
  • OK’d a resolution to spend $5,000 for an animal shelter needs assessment study and conceptual design in an amount not to exceed $5,000. Gulf Shores, Foley and Baldwin County are all contributing $5,000 for the study. The council also heard a report from Animal Control Officer Tom Conorly who said the Trap, Neuter, Return program is approaching 400 felines that have been neutered with the program. He said other cities have reached out to Orange Beach for help starting their own programs including Gulf Shores and Foley.
  • OK’d a resolution authorizing the execution of a clinical site agreement with the USA Health Division of the University of South Alabama for a paramedic and resident physician program.
  • OK’d a resolution declaring certain personal property owned by the City of Orange Beach as surplus and unneeded and authorizing the mayor and city clerk to dispose of such property on govdeals.com
  • Approved a change order of $1,250 for the shoreline stabilization project near the art center to upgrade to two-by-six treated lumber. The change brings the total for the project to just under $66,000.

During the work session, the also council discussed:

  • A resolution declaring radios owned by the City of Orange Beach as surplus and unneeded and authorizing donation to Dale County Sheriff's Office.
  • A resolution appointing Sherry Brandler to the Library Board. She will replace Suzanne Laurier who is resigning effective in July.
  • Renewal of waste removal franchise agreements with eight different companies and the renewal of taxi franchise agreements with nine different companies.