Last night officials in East Hampton voted unanimously to ban the intentional release of balloons on the eastern end of Long Island. The East Hampton Town Board passed the resolution after a public hearing.
East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw Keber spoke before the board endorsing the legislation. She presented more than thirty letters from local organizations and businesses supporting the ban.
The Town Trustee also gave the Board a proclamation and petitions in the form of drawings from students at the Montauk School highlighting the danger that balloons present to marine animals, fish, birds and wildlife.
Susan McGraw Keber has been instrumental in creating awareness about the hazards of balloons. She created the "Balloon Fish" art piece from balloon debris she collected on local beaches. A t-shirt inspired by the art piece was sold by the Town Trustees of East Hampton to emphasize the balloon problem and raise money for the Rysam Scholarship that benefits a local East Hampton high school student.
Colleen Henn of the Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter has fought tirelessly on the intentional release of balloon ban and contacted McGraw Keber in December to help push the legislation through.
Individuals found violating the ban would face up to a $1,000 fine and possibly 15 days in jail, the same penalty as littering.
"Balloons end up in our waterways, they end up in our marine animal life," said East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw Keber.
People often release balloons as part of graduation ceremonies, weddings and memorial services. Five states around the U.S. now ban the intentional release of balloons. Individual municipalities are jumping on the ban bandwagon from Rhode Island to Texas. Clemson University also banned their traditional balloon release program.
"This isn't really meant to be a law that targets a child on his or her birthday who accidentally releases a balloon," said Colleen Henn. "We really don't want to be punishing those children. But we would like to educate the public about what happens when you do release a balloon."
Henn said balloons can kill marine life and birds and pollute the water. She said since 2017, the Surfrider Foundation has conducted 18 beaches clean-ups at East Hampton Town beaches and found 194 balloons, which averages more than 10 balloons per beach.
Kristin Thorne of ABC7NY Eyewitness Eyes interviewed Susan McGraw Keber, Colleen Henn and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming about the ban. Fleming told Thorne she is interested in bringing the ban to the Suffolk County level.
Hats off to Susan McGraw Keber and Colleen Henn for their diligent and inspiring efforts to make this legislation happen!