Balloons voted off the island

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 8:45am
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The slogan “No balloons!” was repeated often at the April 2 meeting of the New Shoreham Town Council, and those people got their wish.

The Town Council unanimously voted to ban the use and sale of balloons on Block Island. The move comes four months after the Town Council banned the use of single-use plastic bags at retail points of sale on the Island. In both cases, the Town Council acted on the recommendations of the Planning Board.

The ordinance calls for a fine not to exceed $200, enforceable by the New Shoreham Police Department, and becomes effective on Monday, April 9.

First Warden Ken Lacoste said the Town Council looked at how other communities legislate balloons. “It’s all over the scale,” he said, noting that “some don’t allow them at all,” while others ban particular types of balloons. Lacoste said he believes balloons “are an acceptable form of display” at certain events, and added, “I think that’s where I’m kind of leaning with this,” — meaning he was in favor of not prohibiting all types of balloons, as proposed by the Planning Board.

Lacoste noted that Nantucket and Provincetown have banned the use of helium balloons.

Councilor Sven Risom said his concern was that balloons are often released into the natural environment.

Councilor Martha Ball, who is a columnist for The Times, said one of her “summer columns” from 15 years ago had the headline “’Balloons on the beach.’ It’s kind of mindboggling that so much information is out there now about the vast quantities of plastic that are in the ocean.” 

Councilor Chris Willi said, “I spend a considerable amount of my life on the water around the Island. And every single day — not a day goes by when we don’t pick up plastic, the majority of which is balloons,” and some of which floats in from Long Island, he said. “I can’t imagine this is going to affect anybody terribly in the pocketbook. This is easy to do here. This is a feel-good ordinance. And I think it sends a message,” he said.

The new ordinance states: “The purpose... is to protect the wildlife and coastal ecosystems of Block Island, the enjoyment of nature, and the health, safety, and welfare of Block Island’s residents and visitors by banning the use of balloons as it has been determined that balloons pose a risk and nuisance to the environment.”

The ordinance notes that: “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, use or distribute any type of balloon (including, and not limited to latex, Mylar balloons, or water balloons). No person shall dispose of any balloon in any manner, including by release into the air, other than being contained in a trash bag and transported to the Transfer Station.”  

At the suggestion of resident Annie Hall, the Town Council agreed to have the ban included in the town’s special event license applications. “There are people who come out here who have weddings, or events on their property, and this way they will have to sign off on it,” she said. “This way they will be informed.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Planning Board Chair Margie Comings, whose board has been taking a step-by-step approach to eliminating products that are harmful to the Island environment. Comings said she was “astounded” by the number of people, mostly boaters, who approached her in public advocating for a prohibition on balloons. “We want to be a leader on this; not a follower.”

Resident Carol Leslie agreed, and recounted a story from her days working at the Mystic Aquarium when she said a leatherback sea turtle “was killed by one balloon. You can’t just say these balloons, or those balloons. You have to say, ‘No balloons!’” She noted that the town banned “plastic bags. It’s almost ridiculous if we don’t ban balloons.”

Former First Warden Kim Gaffett said, “I hope you take up plastic takeout containers, and straws next.”

“I agree,” said resident Seth Draper, whose family runs the 1661 Inn and the 1661 Animal Farm on Spring Street. “I would like to see that the ordinance be one-hundred percent — no balloons on the Island — and not let there be a gray area in the ordinance. I hope this banning path continues by the town to include plastic forks, single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, any of that kind of stuff. ”

“That’s all on my list,” said Comings.

The Barn 

In other news, the Council unanimously approved amending the New Shoreham Zoning Ordinance designating restaurants as an accessory use to hotels in the town’s residential C/Mixed-Use Zone. Spring House Hotel attorney Elizabeth Noonan said the change is aimed at allowing The Barn restaurant to operate year-round. She said the ordinance has to go before the Zoning Board for review and approval.