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May 21, 2007

The Journal News

Bigger is better for fans of bottle bill

CONGERS - An enhanced bottle bill would generate critical funds for state environmental programs and curtail littering, proponents of the measure said yesterday as they urged lawmakers to enact the legislation.

During a news conference near the Rockland Lake State Park's Nature Center, local and state officials and community leaders spoke about the proposed legislation dubbed the "Bigger, Better Bottle Bill."

"Consumer habits have changed substantially from when the original law was enacted," said Carol Ash, the commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "Each year, a growing number of bottles and cans end up in the trash or marring our state's parkland, roadways and neighborhoods. From an environmental standpoint, we must do better."

The existing state Returnable Container Act - commonly referred to as the bottle bill - which went into effect 25 years ago next month, requires a 5-cent refundable deposit on soda and beer cans and bottles.

The Bigger, Better Bottle Bill would require deposits on bottles of noncarbonated beverages - such as water and sports drinks - and would require that beverage distributors transfer unredeemed deposits to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.

When the original bottle bill was passed, water, sports and fruit drinks accounted for a sliver of the overall beverage market. Today, they represent about 20 percent.

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, said she heard from "dozens and dozens" of her constituents who said they supported the enhanced bill.

"The original bill was appropriate when it was adopted 20 years ago," she said, "but now it's time to increase our efforts. This bill will enhance curbside recycling programs and provide funding that will directly go to protecting our environment."

Andy Stewart, executive director of Keep Rockland Beautiful, Inc., said the bill would greatly reduce litter. Stewart organizes cleanups of Rockland's roadways.

During his presentation, he invited children and adults to come up and place bottles into a plastic bag. The bottles each contained written messages in support of the expanded bill.

"Our cleanup volunteers just bagged about 30 tons of trash from Rockland's streets, parks and streams," Stewart said. "The expanded bottle bill will allow us to spend less time picking up trash and more time planting flowers."

The bill's opponents argue that beverages don't account for much of the overall waste and that adding more bottles to the redemption list would not significantly reduce the presence of litter.

They further argue that the nickel deposit is just another tax, that the bill would create a hardship for small-business operators, and that environmentalists are pushing for it simply to find a new revenue source.

Jaffee said the expanded bill would create jobs and a portion of the deposit would be returned to manufacturers.

Ash said unclaimed deposits could mean significant improvements to state parks and other environmental projects.

"If we had a Bigger, Better Bottle Bill, two immediate things would happen: One, Andy's job on cleanup would be a lot less difficult, and two, New York state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation would have a lot more money to invest into capital projects," she said.

Ash estimated that the enhanced bottle bill could mean additional revenue of $140 million in one year.

Local capital park projects identified over the next several years include reconstruction of the Sebago Lake Dam at a cost of about $4 million; Harriman State Park around $16 million; bathhouse and pool renovation at Rockland Lake State Park around $1.3 million; water system rehabilitation and replacement at Bear Mountain State Park around $2 million; and rehabilitation of the bathhouse at Tallman Mountain State Park around $300,000.

Other elected officials at yesterday's event included county Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack; county Legislator Connie Coker, D-South Nyack; Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack; and Town Clerk David Carlucci.

Reach Suzan Clarke at snclarke@lohud.com or 845-578-2414.


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