OSWEGO — A series of environmentally conscious reforms approved by Port City officials last year are set to go into effect Wednesday, including heightened fines for littering and banning the use of tobacco products on city property.
The Keep Oswego Clean initiative — unveiled in October 2019 by Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow — added an environmental protection chapter to the city code that takes effect April 22. Port City councilors unanimously approved the legislation, which also included a now-delayed ban on Styrofoam.
“The Keep Oswego Clean Initiative is a multifaceted initiative that positions the city to compound the investments we’re making in our downtown, parks and neighborhoods by encouraging people to be conscious of their behavior, take the appearance of our community into consideration and to be aware of the impact we’re having on the environment,” Barlow said of the policies.
Due to the Port City’s status as a waterfront community, Barlow said the city has “even more responsibility” and “more of an obligation” to protect the environment, adding it’s important to enact policies that encourage individuals to be respectful of the environment and the investments made in public spaces.
The three initial articles in the chapter deal with Styrofoam, or polystyrene, containers, littering and smoking in city facilities and public spaces. Officials lauded the policies as protections for public health and the environment, and said the creation of an environmental protection chapter in the city code opened the door for future safeguards.
“This is a huge step for not only the current residents, but future residents — the children and grandchildren — who will benefit from this,” Council President Rob Corradino, R-7th Ward, said in October, adding each of the three measures would help improve residents’ quality of life.
According to city documents, littering is defined as throwing, depositing or placing garbage (putrescible animal and vegetable waste), refuse or rubbish (non-putrescible solid waste consisting of both combustable and non-combustible waste) in or upon any street, road, sidewalk or other public place within the city of Oswego, except in public or private receptacle.
Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, said the creation of an environmental protection chapter in the city code codifies a commitment to preserving and protecting the community’s resources for future generations.
“As a waterfront community, we have an obligation to take a firm stance on issues that threaten the very essence of what makes our community special,” Hill said. “This new chapter provides the framework for both bold and incremental changes as our city leaders face environmental challenges both now and in the future.”
Smoking and all other tobacco use of any kind will be banned on all city property, including parks and public spaces, and a fine is established for violations, according to city officials. Vaping and other forms of nicotine or tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, are included in the ban.
Lighting up or packing a dip in restricted areas will carry a fine of no less than $100 for the first offense and climbs to $250 or up to 15 days imprisonment upon a third offense.
Fines for littering under the legislation would be no less than $200 and no more than $250 for a first offense, and if a subsequent offense occurs within six months of the first offense fines increase to $300 to $500, or imprisonment of up to 15 days.
Barlow said the city is moving forward with the initiatives despite the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, noting the anti-littering campaign and prohibitions on smoking, vaping and other tobacco products in public places doesn’t put an added burden on the community.
“Not littering and not smoking in public places is basic decency, common courtesy and simply the right thing to do for other people, for our environment and for our community,” the mayor said.
Public Works crews Monday were busy erecting signage and trash receptacles throughout the city in advance of the policies going into effect. Barlow said city workers will also double the number of trash receptacles in each city park, and place signage on walkways and playgrounds throughout the city to promote the new policies.
The ban on Styrofoam included in the initial proposal has been delayed from April 22 to Sept. 8, with Barlow citing the many local restaurants that are relying on take out and delivery orders to stay in business during the pandemic.
The increased use of take out materials was “sudden and unexpected,” Barlow said, and delaying the ban removes what might be an additional hardship for some small businesses. Hill said the delayed implementation of the Styrofoam ban would help small businesses, particularly restaurants, “during a period of great uncertainty when every dollar is precious.”
The ban on polystyrene includes single-use or disposable packing, and takes aim at items like coffee cups, take-out boxes, plates and coolers. Barlow said last year, particularly along the city’s shorelines, coffee cups, bait containers and other polystyrene products could be seen disturbing the natural beauty and usage of the area.
Several exceptions are provided in the polystyrene ban, including use by non-profits or charitable organizations and items packaged outside the city limits that are resold within the city. Officials called the creation of an environmental protection chapter a major step forward for the city.
“The creation of an environmental protection chapter in the city code is a significant and important step and will give future community leaders an easy avenue to build on the progress we’re making,” Barlow said.
Asked what might be added to the chapter in the future, Barlow said solar energy policies and LED lighting, along with new definitions and new local programs are examples of the type of proposals that could be added to city code at a later date.