Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

New Milford Bans Deliberate Balloon Release

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

New Milford Bans Deliberate Balloon Release

Article excerpt

NEW MILFORD — It is illegal to intentionally release balloons in the borough, according to a new ordinance that supporters say will reduce litter and save marine life.

However, representatives of a special-interest group in the state's capital contend that the law and others like it advance misconceptions about the balloon industry.

New Milford is the first town in Bergen County – and, the only one away from the Jersey Shore – to adopt a balloon-release law.

"If you think about it, it's common sense," said Lauren Maehrlein, chairwoman of the Environmental & Energy Commission. "If you throw something on the ground, you can be ticketed for littering. But, if you release something up in the air that comes down as litter, you're not."

That changed with the Borough Council's action, as violators can be fined up to $500. Councilman Al Alonso cast the only dissenting vote, saying he felt the law was unenforceable.

Maehrlein, who has pressed for a local balloon-release law for almost 15 years, said she sees it as a step toward a healthier planet. "Balloons are fun," she said, "but they're not fun for Mother Earth."

The law, which is based on a 2014 ordinance passed in Margate City, covers foil and latex helium-filled balloons. There are three exceptions: balloons released indoors, those released by government agencies for scientific purposes and hot-air balloons.

New Milford's adoption of the law has lifted the borough into rarefied air.

Monica Coffey, who successfully advocated for balloon-release laws in four towns in Atlantic County, including Margate City, said there are 15 towns statewide with such ordinances. Most are scattered along the coasts of Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Capt. Bill Sheehan, who founded the non-profit Hackensack Riverkeeper, said aquatic species of the Meadowlands and beyond – turtles, especially – will be better off for the borough's foresight. The river, which hugs New Milford's western boundary, empties into Newark Bay. He also noted that waterfowl can get tangled by balloon ribbons.

"Keep your garbage out of the river," Sheehan said. "Balloons are airborne litter until they're not airborne anymore – then, they're just plain litter. …

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