LONGPORT – Concerned about the fragile environment, the Board of Commissioners Dec. 7 passed two ordinances that put the onus on residents to preserve and protect what many take for granted.

The commission passed a controversial balloon release ordinance and established time limitations for watering lawns and gardens. Both ordinances were up for public hearings Nov. 18, but the balloon ordinance was tabled because one of the three commissioners was absent and another had a conflict. The lawn sprinkling ordinance was tabled to allow time for landscapers to recommend revisions.

Mayor Nicholas Russo said the helium balloon release ban and lawn watering restrictions would send a message about the fragile nature of the local environment and help conserve water.

Lorna O’Hara of The Balloon Council, who testified against passing the balloon ordinance at the first public hearing, returned to say that passing it would offer “no real benefit to the environment.”

She called the proposal a “bill in search of a problem” and said that there is no record of how many balloons are actually released into Longport’s environment. The measure would be difficult to enforce, she added.

While foil balloons are dangerous and should be weighted and never released into the air, many people are misinformed about the impact of latex balloons on the environment, she said.

“Latex balloons are environmentally friendly,” O’Hara said. “Unlike plastic, latex is made of natural material and is fully biodegradable.”

Supporters of the ban disagreed, saying they could take years to degrade while causing harm to marine life.

Carol Jones of Tuckahoe, a member of the Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter, said that while sailing to Europe 1,000 miles from the coast, she came across a sea turtle that had eaten a balloon and become entangled in the ribbon that was attached.

“So many people here are concerned for sea life and birds,” she said.

Although balloons are sometimes released by accident or mistake, there are many boaters concerned about marine life, Margate resident Steve Jasiecki said.

“Because the ocean is a different environment, it could prolong the degrading of balloons,” he said. “We need to have laws to get people to take heed to the problem. We are sending a message that we care, and that it’s littering and it’s dangerous.”

Joe Hayburn of Ocean City, who helps his friend band osprey chicks, said he has found string tied to balloons in their nests.

Commissioner Dan Lawler said he was out in his boat and came upon what he thought was a pile of clothing floating on the water, only to find when he got closer that it was a pile of deflated balloons.

“That goes to show – and it was just one incident. I’m not in favor of releasing balloons,” he said before voting to approve the ban. “It’s a small simple thing that we can do as a deterrent.”

Russo, who also voted to approve the ban, said the governing body has an obligation to protect the environment for future generations.

“I find it hard to believe that plastic is biodegradable like a banana peel,” he said. “The ordinance will serve as an educational and awareness tool.”

Commissioner James Leeds abstained due to a conflict.

The board unanimously approved time restrictions for watering lawns from May 15 through Sept. 15, but amended the ordinance to allow a waiver of the restrictions for watering newly planted sod or seed for two weeks after planting.

Residents will be allowed to water their lawns for 15 minutes per zone using automated sprinklers and one hour for hand watering, three days a week depending on their street address. Those with odd-numbered addresses can water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while even-numbered addresses can water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. No one can water on Sunday, and watering will be restricted to the hours of 4-7 a.m. or 7-9 p.m.

Solicitor Pacifico “Pat” Agnellini, who recommended Nov. 16 that the ordinance be tabled for a few weeks to address concerns expressed by landscapers, said none of them contacted him to suggest a recommendation. Nevertheless, the board agreed to add the exemption for new lawns.

“It is reasonable to allow more watering of new lawns,” Russo said.

Agnellini said landscapers had previously requested that the watering time be increased to 20 minutes, but the commissioners declined to change it.

“Many have said the 15 minutes is not long enough for flowers,” Agnellini said.

“What we are doing here is trying to conserve water,” Russo said.

Agnellini said the city code enforcement officer would be responsible for enforcement.

“They will have to add that to the list of things they look for. It’s not a simple process, and hopefully people will self-police,” he said.

He recommended notifying landscape contractors who set the timers for residents’ sprinkler systems.

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