Council amends balloon and plastic bag penalties

For violation of town ordinance
Thu, 07/04/2019 - 6:00pm

The penalties for violating the Town of New Shoreham’s balloon and plastic bag ordinances have been set at $50. The ordinances were amended from a criminal penalty to a lesser civil offense.

The Town Council, absent Second Warden André Boudreau and Councilor Chris Willi, voted unanimously (3-0) at its meeting on Monday night to amend and adopt the penalties for both ordinances. First Warden Ken Lacoste made both motions, prefacing their adoption by noting that, “We’re changing enforcement of the policy.”

A violation of either ordinance is now a civil penalty, equivalent to receiving a parking ticket that could result in a court summons and a fine. After the ordinances were passed in early 2018, the violations were noted as a general penalty, which is a criminal offense; a misdemeanor charge punishable by jail time, not to exceed three months, and/or a fine up to $500.

During a council meeting in October of 2018, former New Shoreham Police Chief Bill McCombe suggested that the council consider enforcing a dune violation with a civil penalty so the infraction would not be noted on someone’s record as a criminal offense. McCombe noted that he didn’t think it was the intent of the council to make it a criminal offense, and recommended that the council take time to review the penalty. The dunes violation penalty was set at $50, and the conversation continued, involving the balloon and plastic bag ordinances.

The town council held several subsequent meetings regarding the topic, deciding to bring the adoption of the civil penalty to a vote for a violation of the ordinances at Monday’s meeting.

“Thanks to Bill McCombe for pushing this one,” said Councilor Sven Risom prior to adoption.

“I’m glad we’re doing our part,” said Lacoste. “It’s a serious issue, and a problem. The sooner more cities and towns get involved the better.”

The banning of balloons and plastic bags was per a recommendation from the New Shoreham Planning Board, which has aimed its efforts at protecting Block Island’s natural environment. The purpose of the balloon ordinance “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.”

Under the New Shoreham general ordinances, “Prohibition on Sale and Use of Balloons,” it now states that, “Any person who violates this ordinance will be subject to a fine of up to fifty dollars ($50.00) for each violation payable to the Town of New Shoreham.” The regulation notes: “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.”

As for plastic bags, the same language applies. The regulation states that: “(a) No business establishment shall make available any plastic carryout bags, either complimentary or for a fee, for any sales transaction or other use to members of the public. (b) Nothing in this section shall preclude business establishments from making reusable bags or paper bags available to customers, by sale or otherwise.”

After the council’s meeting Monday night, McCombe told The Times that the amendment simply changes the violation from a “misdemeanor to a civil violation — only punishable by a monetary amount. It’s now similar to a traffic ticket.”

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m.