Kennebunk High School senior Will Jones has been working tirelessly since he was 12 years old to educate the community about the dangers to marine life from balloons and trash in the ocean.
Now, Jones proposes to ban balloons in Kennebunk.
Jones has met with the town ordinance committee to come up with a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the sale, possession and mass release of balloons in Kennebunk. Selectmen serving on the balloon ban ordinance subcommittee include Shiloh Schulte, Wayne Berry and Chris Cluff. Schulte said he supports Jones’ proposed full ban, but Cluff and Berry feel that banning the sale of balloons is “a slippery slope” for the town.
Jones told the board last Tuesday night that he doesn’t want to compromise his beliefs by removing the sale and indoor use of balloons from his proposal.
“Our beaches are our most important treasure,” Jones said.
He outlined a balloon ban adopted in Block Island, Rhode Island, that has been well-received and praised in the press by environmental groups. Jones feels that banning balloons in Kennebunk now will serve as a positive marketing tool, letting people know that the town cares about its marine life, beaches and natural resources.
“If we wait, other towns are going to institute bans, and we’ll be old news,” he said.
Town Attorney Natalie Burns said there needs to be a plan for enforcement and a penalty provision. She also noted that the consequences could be different for selling, possession and mass release of balloons.
Town committees and organizations have already responded to Jones’ education on the dangers of balloons, and have stopped using them during celebrations. May Day organizers replaced balloons with streamers, and both the Kennebunk Police Department and the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce have stopped using balloons during recent outdoor events.
Jones showed off a binder full of letters from Kennebunk Elementary School students saying they support his cause and will help to pick up trash at the beach, and won’t use balloons at their own birthday parties.
Jones said he identified only two businesses in town, Hannaford and Mail-It Unlimited, that currently sell balloons, though there may be more.
Bill Gallant from Mail-It addressed the board last Tuesday night saying he’s opposed to banning the sale of balloons.
“My opinions on this are very strong. I would be in total support of a ban on the mass release of balloons, but I have a real problem with banning individual items for sale,” Gallant said.
Selectman Blake Baldwin agreed with Gallant saying there are many things that are much more dangerous than balloons. It’s not the balloon itself that is dangerous, it’s the improper use or disposal of the balloon that is, Baldwin said.
“If we are going to start banning things we should talk about sugary drinks because that’s going to kill 180,000 people in this country this year. We should talk about banning cigarettes because 410,000 people are going to die from cigarettes. So I think that banning products from sale in this town is a bad policy decision, and I don’t think we should start down that path,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin is owner of Video Creations and he offered, along with Gallant, to create a PSA video with Jones on the proper use and disposal of balloons.
Gallant said he thinks keeping the beaches clean and free of trash is a matter of personal responsibility.
“We walk the beaches of Maine, my wife more than I. We never go without a trash bag. It’s a matter of social responsibility. It doesn’t ring well that we start telling people that they cant use something. There isn’t a thing that man has made that something can’t go wrong with. So I’m troubled by this type of approach,” Gallant said.
Jones said he would like to have a proposed balloon ban ordinance before voters in November. The subcommittee will meet with Jones again at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, to see if they can agree on an ordinance to bring before the Board of Selectmen at its next meeting Sept. 11.
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