WALLINGFORD — The town is looking into whether it can legally ban the possession of running bamboo, a non-native plant that has become a nuisance statewide.
On Thursday night, the Ordinance Committee debated the creation of a local law that would prevent residents from possessing running bamboo. Corporate Counsel Janis Small was directed to check into the legality of the proposed ban. Wallingford would be the first Connecticut town to ban the outright possession of running bamboo.
“I think we all agree there’s an issue,” said Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, committee chairman.
There are several species of running bamboo, said Dianne Saunders, a member of the Conservation Commission. The most common in Connecticut is yellow groove bamboo, known for the yellow stripes on every other node. Most people plant the bamboo for its beauty, or for use as a natural screen, but many are unaware of its invasive effects. Running bamboo can grow up to 40 feet tall, and is resilient to cold weather. It’s known as running bamboo because it spreads through a large underground stem called a rhizome. The roots can extend 20 feet annually. The plant cannot simply be cut; the rhizomes must be removed to halt the bamboo’s growth.
Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare said there are seven locations in town where bamboo overgrowth has become an issue, most notably at the town’s Beseck Meadow open space property. Located off Powder Hill Road in Durham is a small gravel road, purchased by the town as an easement to access the open-space property. Alongside the road is a home. About five years ago, the homeowners planted the bamboo to create a privacy screen. Since the planting was discovered a few years ago, O’Hare and members of the Conservation Commission have documented its growth. At minimum, said O’Hare, it has grown to be about 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, with stalks about 15 feet high. The bamboo is now growing into town property and overtaking part of the town’s access road into the open space.
Another overgrowth is taking place next door to the home of Parks and Recreation Director John Gawlak, who lives at 27 Merriman Lane. The property at 25 Merriman Lane is being invaded by bamboo that was planted by the neighbor to the rear. The barn at the home is completely overtaken and the growth is about 300 feet across, now reaching into Gawlak’s property.
“The neighbor that planted this said he planned on removing it by the end of October,” Gawlak said.
The bamboo is not on the state’s invasive species list, but has the characteristics of an invasive plant in that it can cause damage by growing through sewage and water pipes, and has the strength to grow through asphalt. The bamboo isn’t considered invasive, O’Hare said, because it only spreads through human planting.
A new state law taking effect Oct. 1 does not prevent the planting of bamboo of any kind, but it does make people who plant, or allow running bamboo to be planted on their property, liable for any damages caused to a neighboring property. That includes the cost of removing the plant. Also, the new law requires those who plant bamboo to do so at least 100 feet from neighboring properties.
Fishbein and Small said Thursday that the state law is too general and badly worded. Town Councilor John LeTourneau suggested that a ban on the sale or planting of running bamboo be instituted.
“We need to stop it now,” he said. “Maybe it will take an ordinance to do that.”
The proposed ordinance was refined to disallow possession, as it would stop both the sale and planting in town. Other towns, such as Bozrah, have enacted setback ordinances so that homeowners can’t plant bamboo near town or private land.
Fishbein said he thought the town had the authority to completely ban something, but Small said she wasn’t sure and would prefer checking prior to the ordinance moving to a Town Council vote. The item will come back before the committee next month.