SALISBURY – Elected leaders last week introduced legislation that would ban the intentional release of helium balloons in Wicomico County.
After meeting last month with representatives spearheading an initiative to pass legislation on the Lower Shore, the Wicomico County Council last week voted to introduce a bill that would amend the county code to prohibit the intentional release of non-biodegradable or non-photodegradable balloons into the atmosphere and make any intentional release subject to a civil infraction.
The proposed legislation follows on the heels of a new law passed in Queen Anne’s County prohibiting the intentional release of Mylar and plastic balloons filled with helium. Efforts are also being made to introduce a similar legislative bill in the upcoming General Assembly session in Annapolis.
Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young told the council last week the county was eager to follow suit.
“This is something we are interested in,” he said. “Anecdotally, when I had my Jeep and I would go out to Assateague, this is the number one waste product I would find washed up on the beaches there. We think this is a net positive for the environment.”
Young added language in the proposed bill mirrored legislation that will be introduced in Annapolis. Councilman Larry Dodd, however, questioned why the county would need its own legislative bill.
“It’s not guaranteed it will pass at the state level, and we are interested in putting something in place,” Young replied. “If we get preempted by the state, so be it.”
In Wicomico County, the proposed legislation would not apply to any balloons released by or on behalf of any state or federal agency for scientific or meteorological purposes, hot air balloons that are recovered after launch, or the negligent or unintentional release of any balloons.
Young noted that the bill was intended to discourage rather than punish.
“It’s more to discourage a balloon release to commemorate or that sort of thing,” he said.
Councilman Joe Holloway questioned if the county planned to inform local party stores and retailers regarding any county ban on balloon releases.
“Is there going to be any effort to notify retailers that sell these balloons that it will now be illegal to do a release …?” he asked. “Enforcement is going to be tough.”
Young agreed and said officials could consider sending out press releases and information to local stores.
“It’s going to be difficult,” he said, “especially when you change things at the grassroots level.”
With no further discussion, the council voted unanimously to introduce the legislative bill. A public hearing on the proposed ban will be held on Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.