Southampton Town To Consider Bans On Helium Balloon Sales, Limit On Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Southampton Town landscapers use electric-powered leaf blowers at municipal properties. GREG WEHNER

Members of the Southampton Town Sustainability Committee are seeking a town ban on the sale of helium-filled balloons, as well as restrictions on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers — with an overall goal of an eventual banning of their use — citing the potential harm they may cause to the environment and residents’ quality of life.

Committee members Tip Brolin and Dieter von Lehsten presented the committee’s proposals to Town Board members last Thursday, January 9, at a morning work session.
The ban on the sale of balloons filled with any gas “lighter than air” would piggyback legislation approved by the Town Board last year that banned the intentional release of balloons. The limits on gas-powered leaf blowers would be similar to restrictions put in place before the summer 2019 season in Southampton Village.

“Gas-powered leaf blowers are a big nuisance,” Mr. von Lehsten told the board. “While they do a job, they make a lot of problems.”

Southampton Village bans the use of the leaf blowers from May 20 through September 20 every year. Between September 21 and May 19, the machines can be used only from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. They are not allowed to be used on Sundays or on federal holidays, and municipal employees and private clubs must abide by the rules.

Walk-behind leaf blowers are allowed to be used only on properties larger than a half-acre in size, under the proposal, and no more than two gas-powered blowers can be used under the same conditions. The only exception to the rules would be if the supervisor declares a state of emergency.

Electric-powered leaf blowers can be used freely, though, and the town already utilizes them on municipal properties.

Mr. von Lehsten said the bigger goal is to get the gas-powered machines banned completely by 2023 or 2024.

“Banning their summer use removes emissions of 20 [Ford] F-150 pickup trucks driving 10,000 miles per year,” he said. “You see, these units are really bad.”

He went on to say gas-powered lawn machines that work on two-stroke engines can cause hearing damage, high stress, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

When the restrictions were proposed in Southampton Village, concerned landscapers attended the public hearings in droves. Now that they are in place, Mr. von Lehsten said, the landscapers have no real objection, other than the fact that electric-powered machines are not as powerful as gas-powered machines, and the batteries do not hold a charge long.

“I think the technology has really changed. There’s good equipment out there,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that the restrictions put in place by the village did not put any of the landscapers out of business. “I think the stage is set for the town to follow suit.”

The balloon ban has some retailers worried that they will lose business. Mr. Brolin said he tried to survey 18 retailers, and only 10 responded; out of the 10, he said, four supported the ban, and six objected, saying they didn’t want to lose the business.

Mr. Brolin said the proposed law looking to ban the sale, distribution and release of lighter-than-air gas-filled balloons would follow in the steps of places like Provincetown, Massachusetts. The ban would primarily target helium-filled latex and mylar balloons; the sale of unfilled balloons would not be restricted. In its current form, the legislation would still allow someone to purchase a tank of helium and balloons, then take them home and fill the balloons up themselves for a celebration.

Town Board member John Bouvier said mylar and latex balloons represent a large amount of waste found on local beaches and in the water, and while someone could still purchase a helium tank to fill balloons, any reduction would be a positive one. He also said the impact the reduction could have on wildlife would be huge.

Scientific studies including helium balloons or the release of balloons that are tethered to string would be excluded from the ban.

Public hearings, which have yet to be scheduled, will need to be conducted before the Town Board acts on either proposed ban.

“It’s a big step,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “A lot of people, obviously, do purchase these things. They use them for celebrations … I do want to do the right thing for the environment, but I do want to understand how it’s going to affect people’s lives.”