2018-09-06 / News

Coastal town could put a ban on balloons

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The idea of banning balloons in Kennebunk, first floated toward a June 2019 town vote, is inflating a bit faster. Although an ordinance remains unlikely to make the November ballot, it could now appear before voters as early as this winter.

The author and sponsor of the proposal, high school senior Willy Jones, has been workshopping a draft of the ban language for more than a year before the board of selectmen’s three-member ordinance subcommittee, meeting most recently Aug. 9.

At that session, it was agreed there was little hope of getting the ordinance cobbled together in time for November, and Jones left with the intent of modifying language on the sale and indoor use of balloons. Already, Jones had massaged what was initially meant to be a full-on ban on the sale and use of all balloons, making it apply only to those filled with a lighter-than-air gas.

A stout environmentalist, Jones says balloons — whether released on purpose or let loose accidentally — can eventually cause harm to wildlife. Of particular concern, he said, are whales, which can scoop up the latex refuse while skimming the ocean’s surface for food, causing the material to play havoc with their digestive systems.

Jones was back on Aug. 31, this time appearing before a special session of the full selectboard. Although Jones had left the earlier subcommittee meeting saying he valued its input — given in the interest of giving his proposal its best chance of a positive public vote — Jones said he’d since ruled against making the suggested edits.

“I am currently at a crossroads with this issue,” Jones said. “I ended up on a path where I had been asked to compromise on concepts within this ban that are important to me, and I have reluctantly given in, but regret considering those compromises.

“To me, it feels like the foundation of my mission is being convoluted,” Jones said. “I feel if we still use and sell balloons, we are not getting them out of the ocean, which was, and still is my essential goal. I would like to go back to where I started.

“When I began this process, I felt I was working in the best interests of Kennebunk in terms of the people, children and animals a balloon ban would protect. When people visit Kennebunk I thought they would hear of our ban, even even if they saw balloons from other towns washed up on our beaches, they would know we didn’t like it and want to protect our beaches from trash. Our beaches, to me, are our most important treasure, which we share with very many people. If we don’t respect our own beaches, other people won’t.”

According to Jones, only Hannaford and Mail-It Unlimited sell balloons in Kennebunk. Jones said a ban on balloons would have an infinitesimal impact on the grocery chain’s bottom line, while Mail-It Unlimited, touted in 2017 as the third largest UPS shipper in the country, should be able to weather the loss to its product line.

Spinners, pinwheels and ribbons are all better festive alternatives to balloons, Jones said, and many have been adopted by local business and even the town itself, which has already shunned balloons from its annual May Day Festival.

Jones read letters from officials of Block Island, Rhode Island, home of the balloon ban he took as the model for his proposal.

Those letters touted the positive impact of Block Island’s ballon ban on tourism, and Jones postulated that if it did not act now, Kennebunk would lose any potential media attention — which might spotlight the town to conservation minded visitors — as he expects balloon bans to soon become as common in Maine as the recent wave of bans on styrofoam containers and plastic grocery bags.

More importantly, Jones said, Block Island, like Kennebunk, also has a ban on the sale and use of so-called Chi-

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