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Southampton Town passes ban on helium balloon sales in 4-1 vote

Sandy Fiore, owner of Hampton Balloon & Party

Sandy Fiore, owner of Hampton Balloon & Party Rental in Southampton, said the law is misguided and that customers will drive to other townships for their party needs. Credit: John Roca

Selling helium-filled balloons will no longer fly in Southampton after the town board voted Tuesday to prohibit their sale in an effort to protect the environment.

The law prevents the sale and distribution of balloons filled with lighter-than-air gas with a fine of up to $350 and/or 15 days in jail.

The ban goes into effect June 1, 2022.

The measure was brought to the board by the town’s green advisory committee and was sponsored by Councilman John Bouvier.

Proponents of the ban said it sets an example for other communities and will cut down on litter, particularly along beaches and waterways. Critics said it will put a strain on party businesses.

The board voted 4-1 at its Tuesday meeting in favor of the bill.

Councilwoman Julie Lofstad cast the lone dissenting vote, citing the impact on local businesses already weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and a year of canceled events.

"Yes, balloons blow. I totally agree," she said during Tuesday’s meeting. "And yes, [we must] protect the environment. But not at the cost of struggling local businesses at this time."

Lofstad volunteered to reach out to affected businesses and take suggestions on other ways the town can help them.

Other board members acknowledged the economic impact but said it was ultimately outweighed by the positive effect on the environment.

"It’s hard for me to take an action that I know some small businesses feel is detrimental," said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. "But I have to look at the greater good here and the bigger picture."

The legislation’s passage was welcome news to Kristin Luciano, an attorney who lives in East Quogue and jogs on the beach. Luciano said she collected nearly 75 discarded balloons Monday during a single jog on Coopers Beach in Southampton Village.

"We went through this crazy crusade for the [Suffolk County ban on] plastic straws and then a straw … it’s so much smaller than a balloon," said Luciano, adding she noticed balloons in protected piping plover nesting grounds. "They’ve got to get rid of them."

Southampton officials have said they believe they are the first Long Island municipality to adopt such a law, although similar legislation has passed in Massachusetts’ Provincetown and Nantucket Island.

South Fork municipalities often lead the way in passing environmental initiatives before Suffolk County and New York State. Southampton and East Hampton towns in 2019 both passed bans on the intentional release of balloons before a law was adopted countywide.

Sandy Fiore, owner of Hampton Balloon & Party Rental in Southampton, said in a phone interview that the law is misguided. She said customers will drive to other townships for their party needs and that she plans to expand her business by opening a second storefront elsewhere.

"They’re going to call other balloon companies outside the township, and they’re going to still get the same balloons," Fiore said.

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