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Jersey Shore towns take aim at balloons

The city of Ventnor has joined Margate and Longport in banning the release of helium balloons outside, and attaching a $500 fine to the ban.

It may seem like a good idea to release balloons to the sky over the ocean, but Shore towns have had enough.

Ventnor has joined Margate and Longport in banning the release of helium balloons outside, and attaching a $500 fine to the ban. Ventnor commissioners adopted the ban Thursday and will have a final vote on the ordinance on Feb. 16.

The ban is the work of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group well-acquainted with balloons that start their life at a birthday party but end up blowing in the wind on the beach, or in the ocean.

There, they either wind up in the stomachs of marine life or get their strings wrapped around the animals' bodies.

Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said, "It's an environmental issue. People let them go, or they just get loose. They end up in the ocean. They hurt the sea life."

A national nonprofit, Balloons Blow, has been tracking laws nationwide banning balloon release.  The issue got some traction after the actress Jamie Lee Curtis published a children's book, Where Do Balloons Go, that romanticized letting balloons fly away.

Holtzman said the passage of the ordinance will help educate residents and visitors, as well as Realtors, who often advertise open houses with balloons that can get loose.

Helium balloons, usually from the aftermath of a child's birthday celebration, are a common sight on unraked Jersey beaches.

Ventnor's ordinance bans the release of any helium balloons, including latex and Mylar, "as it has been determined that the release of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases poses a danger and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals."

The ordinance bans people from releasing balloons and also from organizing a balloon release within Ventnor, except if the balloon is being released by government for "scientific or meteorological purposes." Hot-air balloons recovered after launching and indoor release of balloons are not prohibited.

The Surfrider Foundation has also advocated a ban  on plastic bags or  fee on bags to cut down on the consequences from those plastics. Longport has adopted a mandatory 10-cent fee on plastic bags used in stores; however, it was mostly symbolic, as the affluent borough has no actual stores, only restaurants.

Holtzman said a plastic bag ordinance was a tougher sell for Ventnor.

"The demographics are very different in Ventnor," she said. "Even if it's a dime,  I don't think we should be imposing that. There are middle-class people who lost their jobs. As much as I'm in tune to protecting the environment, we have to protect the people and their pockets, too. It puts a burden on the merchants."

Below, Jeff Hoffberger of the Surfrider Foundation with balloons collected from the ocean.