A few members of the public supported Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen’s bill to ban intentional balloon releases, but some — including council leadership — have questioned its overall effectiveness.
Josh Cramer and Mark Long were the only two county residents to speak at Tuesday’s public hearing for the bill. Cramer said balloon releases are a form of littering, something that has been legislated nationwide.
“I don’t see that this littering makes much of a difference, in that it goes into the air first ... litter is litter,” Cramer said.
Long shared Cramer’s view.
“There are some that say balloon launches are a tradition that many have enjoyed over the years,” he said. “Just because it has been done by many over the years as practice doesn’t mean it should be done. It’s littering.”
The proposed ban on intentional balloon releases was introduced by Hagen in part because of a similar law that passed in Queen Anne’s County in a 5-0 vote in late August.
Hagen’s initial proposal excluded balloons that were either photodegradable or biodegradable, but he has since removed that language. It would fine people or organizations up to $250 if they intentionally release balloons.
Hagen said after Tuesday’s hearing he didn’t know of any mass balloon releases statewide, but noted they are common at weddings, groundbreakings and other events.
“I think there’s been a lot of research and a proven body of knowledge on the impacts this has on wildlife,” he said of mass balloon releases, adding: “It’s not a huge issue, but it’s part of solving a problem by doing the right thing.”
Still, County Council leadership said before Tuesday’s meeting they had concerns about Hagen’s bill. Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said that the intent behind Hagen’s bill was well-meaning, but doubted its overall need countywide.
She added it would be tricky to enforce if you don’t catch people in the act of releasing balloons, and there could be spillover pollution from neighboring counties that don’t have a law enacted.
“While I certainly think it’s a noble cause, I hesitate to put an ordinance in place that would put staff in a tough position. ... I’m not sure a balloon release [ban] in Frederick [County] is going to have the impact he wants it to have,” Keegan-Ayer said.
Both she and Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) said it might be better to educate people on the issue of balloon releases, versus trying to pass a law. Blue said several people have emailed him and council members in support of Hagen’s proposal, but added that education is one of the driving forces behind it.
“I think it would be a lot more effective than a law. ... The purpose alone is to educate, so why not just do that,” Blue said.
“I don’t think it’s enforceable,” he added. “It’s too much of an intrusion in our lives when it comes to providing environmental protections.”
Hagen’s bill would not apply to hot air balloons, those released by state or federal agencies for “scientific or meteorological purposes,” nor would it apply to the unintentional release or balloons or hot air balloon pilots releasing ones to study meteorology.
Blue said he would prefer to see the issue handled at the state level. Sen. Clarence Lam (D) of Howard and Baltimore counties plans to introduce a similar bill next year, which has been co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Young (D), who represents the city of Frederick and surrounding areas.
Hagen said in a previous interview that new laws in Frederick County and other local jurisdictions might influence the state to pass its own law, but Blue said the issue isn’t a local priority to him.
A final reading and vote on Hagen’s proposal is scheduled in the coming weeks.