Balloon in ocean

An ordinance introduced during City Council's April 5 meeting would make the intentional release into the atmosphere of lighter-than-air balloons illegal if the measure passes during council's next meeting April 19.

Introduction of the ordinance passed unanimously, 7-0.

City officials say the proposed change would reduce harm to the environment and minimize the potential threat balloons pose to aquatic animals. Environmental groups and animal protection activists say released balloons often land in the ocean, where marine mammals, turtles and other sea life can become entangled in them or ingest them and die.

If passed, violation of the ordinance would carry a fine of as much as $500.

Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport have all adopted similar ordinances. The encouragement to do so originated from Monica Coffey, communications manager of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and chairwoman of the Margate Green Team. The Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter also urged communities to join the anti-balloon-release crusade.

Asked about the issue during a council meeting in early March, City Manager Ed Stinson said introduction of the balloon-ban ordinance was still in the works but that the city had been receiving some resistance from the Balloon Council.

According to its website, the Balloon Council is “an organization of retailers, distributors and manufacturers formed in 1990 to educate consumers and regulators about the wonders of foil and latex balloons and the proper handling of them.”

The site goes on to state that “At the time TBC was established, several state legislatures were considering well-intentioned but ill-conceived laws, which would have severely limited consumer’s rights to obtain full enjoyment from balloons. These legislative attempts were based on rumor, inaccurate news reports and 'expert' assertions. TBC’s product labeling, media relations, public awareness and legislative initiatives have helped curb this negative trend by diligently setting the record straight whenever and wherever possible.”

The Brigantine ordinance would amend chapter 220 of the city code as it relates to nuisances. Several residents who attended the April 5 meeting commended council for its actions in introducing the balloon-ban ordinance, among them Brigantine Green Team co-chairwomen Lisa McClay and Johanne Milnes, and Shiela Dean of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

After its introduction received unanimous approval, 1st Ward Councilwoman Karen Bew said, “Mike Brennan (the former chairman of the Brigantine Chamber of Commerce) made a big push to ban balloons before he died, and passing this resolution would serve as an excellent tribute to his memory.”

Some residents who attended the April 5 meeting would like to see the city code amended further to include the prohibition of balloons used by Realtors who place them on signs to call attention to properties for sale. John Pucci, an active community member who attends most council meetings, was among them.

“On windy days I've seen them come off signs,” said Pucci. “The ordinance as worded states 'intentional release,' but they are getting into the environment and into our waters unintentionally, and there are other measures that can be taken.”

Pucci said that when the issue was first brought up several months ago, there was an investigation into how real estate agents would feel about doing away with the practice of putting helium balloons on signs to attract attention, and the majority were fine with doing away with the practice.

“Nearly all agreed that it would not interfere with business if the balloons were not there, and there's no indication that it would negatively affect the real estate business on the island,” said Pucci. “So if what we're talking about is preventing balloons from getting into the environment and hurting animals, that is also something that has to be taken into consideration. You might want to consider wording that balloons are not to be used for advertising purposes by Realtors or anyone else.”

Council's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 19.