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DAN'S PAPERS, June 12, 2009 Page 25 www.danshamptons.com

Montauk Festival Debuts Eco-Friendly Balloons By Katie Jackson Although the 6th Annual Harbor Festival in Montauk begins on Saturday June 13, the real action doesn’t take place until the following day with the Blessing of the Fleet and the infamous water balloon fights. Captain Michael Potts, Secretary of Montauk Boatmen’s and Captain’s Association, has participated in the Blessing for over 40 years and says the event did not always involve water balloons. The tradition began in the late ‘50s. The water balloon wars originated with the invention of water balloons in the late ‘70s. The younger generation of locals introduced th tradition, and it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it became controversial. Initially, balloons were thrown from boat to boat, but today launchers are common — some even launching frozen water balloons. A friend of Potts was taken to the hospital with a broken cheek bone, courtesy of a frozen water balloon, and a shore-launched balloon broke a window on his boat Complications such as these have led to an increased law enforcement presence that was unnecessary in the early days. Rules and regulations now exist, and there is a division in the boating community over balloon wars. Potts has noticed that the older generation of fishermen tend to shy away from the activity — it’s mostly the younger set who brandish balloons.

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Human and boat safety are just two reasons why many people oppose the balloon fights. Earlier this year, Concerned Citizens of Montauk voted to introduce a “biodegradable balloon swap” as a means of opening up a discussion on protecting Montauk’s environment. The group is offering to exchange 100% biodegradable latex balloons for cheaper, less biodegradable balloons that would otherwise be used – for free. Member Julie Evans Brumm says they had 3,000 rubber latex balloons from the U.S. Balloon Company in Brooklyn available for swapping all last week. Latex comes from the sap of rubber trees and

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being natural, decomposes at a rate similar to that of an oak leaf — in about six months. In the meantime, one can only hope that a curious sea turtle or seal doesn’t come across any balloon fragments that remain after the dust has cleared. By proposing the balloon swap, the Concerned Citizens hoped to reduce the effect of the balloon fights on the environment. They are also calling for volunteer boats to collect remaining debris after the fights. Protecting local waters is important to Montauk residents, and this includes protecting the array of animals that live there. Balloons and other garbage that pollute the water and shore are hazardous to these residents who often mistake floating remnants for jellyfish. With litter eliminated, it can be assumed that the Montauk Monster numbers could increase dramatically. The Montauk Monster is unlikely to make an appearance at this year’s Blessing of the Fleet, but it is still worth checking out the event, where the main activities are to bless the boats for a safe and prosperous season and to honor the previous year’s lost fishermen. The Coast Guard will release wreaths representing each of the fishermen who died at sea or of other causes. Everyone is invited, and as usual there will be plenty of food, fun, and camaraderie. The Blessing begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday June 14, so you have until then to decide if you’ll be participating in this year’s water fight, but in the meantime save the room in your freezer for things other than balloons — like Eggos and ice cream.

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Dan's Papers June 12, 2009  

Dan's Papers, the 51-year-old bible of the Hamptons, is owned by Manhattan Media, a multi-media publishing company based in New York City,...