Ban favored by fire commission would have ended community event
Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday essentially rejected a recommendation to outlaw sky lanterns, a move that would have ended an annual Port Main Street Inc. community lantern launch that attracted hundreds of people last year.
Taking action just weeks ahead of this year’s Sept. 27 lantern launch from Coal Dock Park, the Common Council tabled the recommendation from the Police and Fire Commission indefinitely despite the fact Fire Chief Mark Mitchell noted other communities around the country are banning the paper lanterns because they are a fire hazard.
“I have the utmost respect for you, chief, but I’m not buying it,” said Ald. Paul Neumyer, who made the motion that was seconded by Ald. David Larson to table the recommendation.
Ald. Kevin Rudser voted against shelving the recommendation to outlaw sky lanterns.
“I propose we ultimately ban these effective after the Main Street event,” he said.
City Administrator set the tone for the debate by noting sky lanterns — generally paper supported by wooden hoops to create mini hot-air balloons with a solid fuel source such as wax-soaked cardboard — are popular, readily available and the key to a successful Main Street fundraiser.
“I understand the concern but have not heard of any fires caused by sky lanterns,” he wrote in his recommendation to the council. “My feeling is more thought needs to be considered before a final decision is made.”
About 500 lanterns were released and $4,000 raised by Main Street during last year’s inaugural lantern launch, which was part of the Coal Dock Park dedication event.
The event proved so popular that Main Street plans to host another launch this year and had already ordered hundreds of lanterns by the time the Police and Fire Commission recommended banning lanterns and effectively ending the event.
During the commission’s debate in August, member Marty Becker said there is no doubt the community lantern launch is popular “but this Main Street thing should be stopped.”
The commission’s recommendation was spurred by a letter from Paul Markworth, president of the marina tenant’s association, to city officials that said several sky lanterns landed in the marina parking lot and near boats on July 26.
“One came down in flames on a pickup truck in the parking lot,” Markworth wrote. “Another landed on a dock box.
“Our concerns are that this had the potential to start a fire or fires on boats and vehicles.”
The incident Markworth referred to was not related to the Main Street launch, but that event also concerns marina tenants, he said.
“As you are probably aware, when the Coal Dock sky lantern event took place last year, many did not get fully airborne and came down in the harbor,” he wrote.
Mitchell told the council firefighters will be standing by in case there are problems during the Main Street lantern launch later this month. But the problem, he said, is that lanterns are unpredictable.
“Once they’re up in the air, we have no idea where they are going to go,” Mitchell said.
Rudser asked if the city could be held liable for damage caused by the lanterns now that it has considered and tabled a recommendation to outlaw them.
City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said the city would not be liable for damage merely because the council considered banning lanterns.
“But potentially the person launching the lanterns or the sponsoring organization could be liable or at least subject to a claim of liability,” he said.