STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (WXYZ) - A tradition that has been going on in Sterling Heights for 30 years is causing quite the controversy this weekend at their summer festival.
Every year a balloon release kicks off the weekend at the Sterlingfest, but this year environmental activists want to let the air out of the tradition.
1,500 balloons will fly high into the air tonight, but this year Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte is getting a lot of flak for event.
"This is the first year we've gotten so many complaints from around the country, not from Macomb county," said Mayor Richard Notte.
The balloon release gained negative attention across the country after a site called www.balloonsblow.org got wind of it and the issue blew up on their Facebook page.
"I spend a lot of time on beaches and I take a lot of trail hikes and I pick up litter a lot and a lot of times it's balloons," said Hunter Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, an environmental activist, talked with us all the way from California. He said his outrage comes from the dangers the balloons pose to the environment.
"An animal consuming plastic or latex, it stays in their stomach forever that they don't think they're hungry anymore and they will starve to death," said Kilpatrick.
The balloons are made of a biodegradable material they will not completely break down once they deflate.
"They burst into small pieces. So I think it's less litter and if the birds eat them, it's just a small piece and it won't kill them, just give them a little indigestion," said Mayor Notte.
The Sterling Heights Police Department is also checking into whether or not their police officers are violating the city's own litter ordinances because the union is one of the many groups sponsoring the balloon launch.
Mayor Notte told 7 Action News that the city will move forward with the balloon release tonight because they have already purchased the helium and the balloons, but because of the backlash, the city will reconsider the balloon launch for next year and look at other options.
To learn more about Sterlingfest you can visit the city's website: http://www.sterling-heights.net