Town-wide balloon ban may be next

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 9:15am

It was the goal of the Block Island Planning Board, after plastic bags were successfully banned from retail points of sale on the island, to target either single use water bottles or balloons as the next to go.

Turns out that balloons — and perhaps specifically Mylar balloons — may be next.

At its meeting on Monday, the Town Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on Monday, April 2 to discuss the subject. The move was based on a recommendation from the Planning Board, which sent a letter to the Town Council requesting the drafting of a town ordinance prohibiting the sale and use of all non-biodegradable balloons on Block Island.

The Planning Board defined a balloon as a “nonporous bag made from materials such as rubber, latex, polychloroprene, or nylon that can be inflated or filled with fluid, such as helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, air or water and then sealed at the neck, and used as a toy or decoration.” Violation of the balloon ordinance, a non-criminal offense, would be punishable by a fine not to exceed $500, and be enforced by the Town Manager or his designee. 

In its draft, the Planning Board stated that the purpose of the balloon ordinance would be “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 determined that balloons pose a risk and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals, so as to constitute a public nuisance.”    

Town Planner/GIS Specialist Alison Ring told the Town Council that Planning Board attorney Don Packer reviewed the draft ordinance and didn’t have any concerns.

Councilor Sven Risom, who is also Vice Chair of the Planning Board, said from his experience “you find balloons all over the place” on the Island, including at the bottom of the Great Salt Pond. He said the problem is that “they don’t disintegrate, as far as I know. So, this is what’s before us.”

Risom said that Mylar balloons are easy to pick out because they’re shiny, and you can see them in the brush. Councilor Chris Willi said you see latex balloons in the water, both offshore, and on the shoreline during July and August. Willi runs a seasonal charter fishing business on the Island.

“The helium, and the Mylar balloons, are much more of an issue” on the Island than other types of balloons, said Councilor Martha Ball.

Councilor Chris Willi wrote a letter to the Planning Board, stating, “I’d like to point out what I find to be more of a problem to our marine ecosystem, especially for an Island community... [are] balloons of all types, including ‘Chinese lanterns’ that are not bio-degradble... I spend over 100 days on the water; not a day goes by when we don’t pick some sort of garbage up — the majority of which is Mylar balloons. This should be next.”

After some back and forth on the subject, Second Warden André Boudreau said, “I’m not sure if I want to ban all balloons. I know I’d like to ban Mylar balloons.” He wasn’t sure about banning water balloons. “I don’t think I’ve found a regular balloon on the ground on Block Island.”

Boudreau said he believes that Styrofoam is a bigger issue on the Island, to which Risom said, “That’s coming. We have to do this one step at a time.”

In referencing the Planning Board’s letter, First Warden Ken Lacoste noted that he wasn’t aware that “sky lanterns” were illegal in Rhode Island. A sky lantern is a balloon-type object with candles that rises into the sky. Lacoste said his wife finds their remnants while walking along the shoreline.

In other news from Monday’s Council meeting, Town Manager Ed Roberge said the work of Maryann Seebeck, MSN, RN, the town’s new Director of Public Welfare/Human Services, has been “very positive,” and a “good step forward.” Roberge said that Seebeck, whose first day was Dec. 16, works out of an office at the Island Free Library and intends to expand her services. The Town Council unanimously approved Seebeck’s report. 

At the request of Medical Services Director Dr. Mark Clark, the Council appointed Linda Closter, RN, and Kyra Ernst, as Medical Center representatives and alternates to the Emergency Management Task Force.