Despite opposition from the sheriff and leadership, the Frederick County Council approved legislation Tuesday night aimed at preventing intentional balloon releases.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Kai Hagen (D), was modeled after a similar bill approved by the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners earlier this year. Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Vice President Michael Blue (R) were the two “no” votes in a 5-2 tally.
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins told council members near the start of the meeting that Hagen’s proposal was unenforceable and, if it passed, it would make the county look like a “laughing stock.”
“That’s the biggest hurdle in this case, how we prove that someone knowingly or intentionally releases the balloon,” Jenkins said regarding the ability to enforce it. “Based on my experiences in law enforcement, orders like this would be impossible to prove in a timely manner.”
He and Hagen debated the effectiveness of the law for a brief period. At one point, Hagen asked if Jenkins would have called the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners a “laughing stock,” noting those commissioners were all Republicans.
“I would have made the same argument in Queen Anne’s County … I can just tell you what I’ve heard in the public,” Jenkins (R) responded.
Those who supported the bill noted that although it would be difficult to enforce, it should help decrease overall litter in the county, and was a good educational tool.
That included Councilman Steve McKay (R), who said he “wrestled with” making a decision on Hagen’s proposal.
“I do think a law on the books will influence behavior … and I do completely support the argument that it is littering,” McKay said.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) agreed.
“I understand it’s not going to change everyone’s habits … but we’re going to try and educate people on massive balloon releases and hopefully stop them from happening,” Donald said.
Keegan-Ayer, however, said she was in the “bizarre” position of siding with Jenkins, someone she typically disagrees with. She noted it would put county staff and the sheriff’s office “in a bind” regarding enforceability.
“The problem I have with this is there is going to be no evidence the violation occurred from the person who perpetuated the crime, because the evidence floats away,” she said.
Hagen, however, contended that mass balloon releases would be easy to spot and evidence would be easy to track, from balloon sales to overall plans for major institutions.
After the vote, he thanked the council for its support. His bill would assess up to a $250 fine on people or organizations who intentionally release balloons, and he stated multiple times the purpose was for mass balloon releases, not single balloons let go into the air.
Council passes change to allow scuba facility
In a 7-0 vote, County Council members passed a change to the county’s mineral mining zoning code, allowing for a scuba facility and related attractions.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) had been working on the change for months with county staff, along with Brad Hill, owner of a mining quarry east of Woodsboro, and Matt Skogebo, a scuba instructor near Baltimore. They both were in attendance for Tuesday’s vote, and are working on a proposal in a spring-fed body of water on Hill’s property.
Council members thanked Blue for his work, and Blue thanked county staff for their help to craft the bill.
“You think you have all the answers and then you make a turn, and you have a million more questions … it’s been a long time coming,” Blue said.
The bill allows the project near Woodsboro, estimated at up to $30 million, to proceed. The legislation requires that “any building, structure or area of land and water that is used for scuba diving education and recreation” and also requires the site:
- Uses an open-pit mine fed by a natural spring.
- Has setbacks of 50 feet from all property lines, and 300 feet from all mineral mining, extraction, processing and hauling equipment.
- Receives approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment prior to site plan approval.