Three Virginia Supreme Court judges refused yesterday to delay enforcement of Fairfax County's beverage container law that bans carbonated soft drinks in pop-top cans and restricts the sale of other beverage containers.
The justices decision clears the way for a hearing on the merits of the case in Fairfax County Circuit Court, perhaps later this year.
THe justices' decision had been awaited anxiously by those area jurisdictions hoping to join Fairfax County by implementing their own bottle bans as part of a Council of Governments areawide antilitter campaign.
Ellen Bozman, member of the Arlington County Board, who noted yesterday that Arlington will advertise Saturday for a public hearing on a similar beverage container ordinance, said "I think (the justices' decision) would have some effect on Board members."
Fairfax County Attorney Frederic Lee Ruck said yesterday that hte decision was "the first hurdle" in the county's effort to have the law sustained. Ruck said he felt an earlier rejection by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge of a request for a temporary injunction "was a hint" that the ordinance would evntually be sustained.In Loudoun County, where a bottle ban was rejected by a Circuit Court judge last spring, supervisors are currently drafting a new ordinance that they hope will be more acceptable to the courts. A Montgomery County ordinance similar to Fairfax County's will become effective Jan. 1. Alexandria is considering an ordinance of its own.
A spokesman for Fairfax City, which is surrounded by Fairfax County, said, however, that the city does not plan to adopt an antithrowaway ordinance. "We have recycling centers, we don't need that," the spokesman said.
The law bans the sale of carbonated, nonalcoholic drinks in cans with a detachable pop-top and requires the placement of a sticker with the words "Washington Metropolitan Area, five-cent refund containers. the sale of alcoholic beverages is not covered by the ordinance.
The idea behind the law is that, with a return value placed on bottle and cans, consumers will return the containers to merchants to get the money rather than pitch the containers along highways or in parks.
The soft drink dealers contend that the law is constitutionally vague in its wording and is unfair because it excludes noncarbonated drinks and alcoholic beverage in nonreturnable containers. They also say the law burdens interstate commerce.
The request to delay the ordinance was first heard last week by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jame Keith, who said the law appeared to be constitutional and that the soft drink bottlers and retailers probably would lose their case when it is ultimately hear d in the court.
The soft-drink dealers then asked the state Supreme Court to hear their request which the justices did on Thursday.
In anticipation of a Thursday ruling the county decided to delay enforcement of the law. But when Justices Harry L. Carrico, Richard H. Poff and A. Christian Compton said last week they could not reach a decsion, the county deided to go ahead and enforced the ordinance anyway.
The justices yesterday did not give a reason for their ruling.
John F. Herrity, who as chairman of the Board of Supervisors voted against the ordinance when it was passed Dec. 8, 1975, said yesterday, he still opposes it.
"Frankly, I haven't noticed the streets are any cleaner since it (law) went into effect."
Fairfax County police said yesterday none of the 56 stores checked since last week has violated the ordinance. A two-man police team daily spot checks the 199 major chain foods stores in the county as well as the "mom-and-pop" stores.
Soft-drink containers constitute 10.2 per cent of the items of litter picked up on state-maintained roads, 17.8 per cent of litter by weight, and 9.4 per ceent by volume, according to the Virginia Highway Department.