On the second night of the first Town Meeting of the year, residents of Nantucket, Massachusetts deliberated for over four hours on issues ranging from zoning laws to the allocation of park land for health care use. There was one point of discussion, however, that should have quietly blown over. By a count of 314-103, Nantucketers voted to prohibit the sale or use of any type of balloon that can be inflated with helium or any other “lighter-than-air gas.” But now the winds of change have brought this bit of local news to the broader media, who have only inflated the matter.
The island is on the front lines of a battle with detritus from balloons, which washes up on its shores and is slow to degrade. The Nantucket balloon ban, which covers Mylar, latex, and plastic balloons, is intended to protect the delicate marine ecosystem and picturesque beaches. (The name Nantucket designates both the island and the town.)
Local environmental advocate Sarah Otkay considers the island “as the final resting place” for the thousands of balloons that must be cleaned off the island’s many beaches. Balloons get carried by winds and tides from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard functions and land on the island — that is, if they don’t get eaten up first by marine life mistaking the balloons for food.
Materials to inform the public and visitors to the island are in the works, and the Boston Globereports that anyone caught importing balloons to Nantucket will have to throw them away in plastic trash bags, dump them in the town landfill, and pay a $50 fine. Of course, residents will be prohibited from using the single-use plastic bags that, along with polystyrene foam, are already banned from the island.
The Nantucket Marine Mammal Conservation Program, which submitted an unsuccessful petition to ban helium balloons three years ago, helped to draft the balloon ban proposal.
As a popular vacation and party destination, Nantucket’s entertainment industry would surely suffer from such a ban. For some, such as Bobby “The Balloon Wizard” Lamb, the ban is an infringement that evokes the debate over gun rights. “Guns don’t kill people; it’s the people using the gun,” the Wizard said.
Yes, it is a stretch to compare murdering someone with a gun to a kid letting go of a helium balloon. If that were not a fallacy, what would come next? The Real Cape wonders if perhaps a balloon Brady Bill is in order: “Make little kids apply for a balloon permit seven days before their birthday parties. Make them get a BID card to be able to buy the balloon and a permit to carry…” and so on.
Though things may appear somewhat out of hand with the balloon ban, the state attorney general’s office still needs to approve the Town Meeting’s proposed bylaw before it can go into effect. For the moment at least, a balloon-free world for Nantucket is still in the wind.
Photo: Ruud Raats via Flickr