Little Compton proposes new rules for balloons, plastics;

And for night lights to preserve a dark sky

By Tom Killin Dalglish
Posted 8/29/19

TIVERTON — Opinions about regulating balloons, plastics, and outdoor lighting were varied and strong when local residents sounded off at an informational hearing August 8 in Town Hall about two proposed new ordinances dealing with the subjects (see insert).

Drafts of two proposals had been prepared by the planning board and presented to the Town Council for consideration, and public reaction was needed.

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Little Compton proposes new rules for balloons, plastics;

And for night lights to preserve a dark sky


LITTLE COMPTON — Opinions about regulating balloons, plastics, and outdoor lighting were varied and strong when local residents sounded off at an informational hearing August 8 in Town Hall about two proposed new ordinances dealing with the subjects (see insert).
Drafts of two proposals had been prepared by the planning board and presented to the Town Council for consideration, and public reaction was needed.
"These proposals are not ready for adoption," cautioned Town Council President Robert Mushen at the outset of the hearing. "Rather the town is seeking comment before drafting the final proposals."
Balloons and plastics
Barbara Passmore stepped forward in defense of balloons, the first to go to the podium during the hearing.
"I understand the concerns, and I have concerns as well for the wildlife and our environment," she said, referring to the threat to each posed by balloons.
But, she said, balloons were used in 1931 in the first Patriots Parade, and at the Chicago Fair in 1933, and they were used to help fight fires in Australia.
"Balloons are very affordable, and they are enjoyed by all ages — by babies and by those of us who are in our sunset years. So I'm asking you to not ban the balloons, I'm asking you to re-educate the public in the use and disposal of the balloons."
"I thought banning balloons was actually just kind of silly," said Councilor Paul Golembeske. "Why are we going to ban balloons? What harm can balloons do? "
But then Mr. Golembeske told a story.
"My office in my barn has a window that looks out across the front yard, and the field. I'm sitting in my office with the proposed ordinance, basically, I just finished reading it, and tossed it to the side, thinking it's ridiculous."
"And all of a sudden the chickens scatter, the horses start acting up, and I'm going, 'what is going on?'
"I go outside, I think it's a hawk because hawks sometimes do that. And there, coming across my field about 10-15 feet off the ground, is a set of mylar balloons. I'm like, okay, this is a sign from whatever deity you want to pick. I've got a picture of them and they're jammin' the bushes across the road."
"So. I'm going from, 'this is a ridiculous', to I think this is something we've got to look at, that we have to address. That's my balloon story."
Councilor Larry Anderson said that when he and his wife walk their property near the shore in southeast Little Compton, "on any given weekend as I walk around, I'm going to find balloons, odds are. I think of it as helium-assisted littering, the way balloons are used. It's clearly a problem, a serious problem. If you talk to fishermen and others, the plastics are not just in our yards, they go all over the place."
As for the impact on local retailers of regulating plastics, Councilor Anderson said "some have seen it as a marketing opportunity," presumably for reusable bags carrying the name or logo of the merchant.
The economic impact on retailers of a ban on single use plastic bags drew comment from Paul Clifford.
"There's a lot of discussion about whether it should be done by persuasion or by legislation," he said. "I would argue that we need legislation, because it's fair. If one store decides to give up plastics, it might cost them more," than others who don't give them up. "But we should have a level playing field, so people who do the right thing aren't disadvantaged. That's my first point," he said,
"My second point is that plastics in the ocean are not a Little Compton issue — we are polluting other people and they are polluting us." Mr. Clifford said.
"We are doing this to protect the broader global environment. We're doing something not just for Little Compton, we're doing it for the bay, for the state, and for the ocean, which leads all the way to Portugal."
"It is probably significant to mention," said Fred Torphy, "that all of the nearby coastal communities — Newport, Portsmouth, Middletown, Bristol, Barrington, have all looked at this proposal [banning single use plastic bags], and because each community is concerned about our coast, as we are, have adopted it."
"Little Compton is a forward-looking community, and it should do what it can to protect its coast and adopt the prohibition of these single use plastic bags," he said.
Outdoor lighting
It was the proposed lighting ordinance, however, that elicited the sharpest divisions between speakers, some preferring to protect the "dark sky" and others preferring illumination for safety, or for other reasons.
Council President Mushen characterized the choice in neighbor disputes about outdoor lighting as one between regulating, or leaving it up to neighbors to work things out amongst themselves.
"Commonly it's a neighbor that the person doesn't wish to engage for a whole host of reasons and thinks the town should engage the neighbor on the person's behalf to turn the lights out," he said. "I believe it is a strength of this town that it is incumbent on each person to do the things for himself or herself that benefit the person, but don't infringe on the other people."
Salvatore Marinosci, who lives near Town Way and Oliver Lane, described the problem with outdoor lighting this way.
"A lot of the houses that are being built now," he said, "they're washing the houses with light, literally circumnavigating the foundations with light, and I know because I'm in the development business. It's a separate business now — site lighting. They do it to extremes. I think we have to do something because we might find a house next to you that looks like a runway."
"My company designs and builds outdoor living spaces throughout Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts," wrote Michael Rocha of Little Compton, in an August 4 letter to the town council about the proposed lighting ordinance.
"Our experience and expertise has helped transform many homes and outside entertainment areas," he wrote.
"Individual residents/businesses should be able to a showcase their own property with outdoor lighting as they see fit. Such as the use of up-lighting on the architecture of their homes/businesses, canopies of trees, landscaping in general, outdoor pergolas, outdoor kitchen areas, patios, stone sculptures, fire pit areas, water features etc.. These are a few examples where up-lighting enhances the overall property, safety and security."
"We as a nation encounter a lot of negativity on a daily basis," Mr. Rocha wrote.
He singled out the provision of the proposed lighting ordinance that addresses flagpole lighting, that says "it is preferred that flags be brought indoors at sunset or lighting be from the top of the pole downward."
"We chose to install an AMERICAN FLAG [caps in the original] on our property to show out patriotism, support for the military and first responders," wrote Mr. Rocha. "We did not purchase and install a flag to take it down every night, or install a light on top of the flag to inadequately and properly light the flag. The authors should be embarrassed to include something so absurd and unpatriotic."
"I'm an electrical contractor, been doing it for years" said Councilor Golembeske. "One of my pet peeves is people putting up lights 'cause they want them to shine out into their yard, and next thing you know it's shining across the yard into their neighbor's yard."
"Lighting for safety reasons does not have to shine up in the air. If you want to illuminate a path, downlighting" is the way to go, he said. There's ways we can deal with this issue of lighting, he said, "without getting too over-regulatory about it."
"If you're standing there and you can see a neighbor's door lights on — is it a floodlight shining in your face, or is it pointing down and you're seeing the glow. That is the differential. It's not stopping all outside lights."
John Berg from the Nature Conservancy said, "If you look at the map from Washington to Boston, the dark sky has just a very few holes that are completely dark at night."

Informational hearing 8/8/19— the two proposals
The purpose of a "joint informational hearing" on Thursday, August 8, was to elicit comments, spoken and written, about two proposals intended to improve and protect the local environment.
• Plastics and balloons: One proposed ordinance relates problems presented by plastic bags, balloons, and plastic straws. It was intended to "encourage the use of reusable carryout bags," and would ban "the use of single use plastic carryout bags for retail checkout of good.
The proposed ordinance also would ban the use of balloons, "as it has been determined that balloons contribute to plastic pollution in the ocean and pose a risk and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals.
• Signs and outdoor lighting: A second proposed ordinance would "regulate the use of reasonable outdoor lighting for safety, productivity and enjoyment while minimizing any adverse impacts relating to light pollution and light trespass."

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