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Is Westport ready to battle bamboo invasion? RTM panel does spade work

Updated 1:56 pm, Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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  • Caryn Rickel, president and CEO of the Seymour-based Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research, shows a picture of damage done by bamboo to a Tuesday meeting of the Representative Town Meeting's Ordinance Committee.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT 9/24/13 Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Caryn Rickel, president and CEO of the Seymour-based Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research, shows a picture of damage done by bamboo to a Tuesday meeting of the Representative Town Meeting's Ordinance Committee. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 9/24/13 Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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A proposed ordinance to control growth of "invasive" bamboo in Westport is raising questions about its potential cost, enforcement and whether it's even necessary because of new state regulation on the plant.

The Representative Town Meeting's Ordinance Committee met Tuesday morning for a lengthy discussion that will be continued at its next meeting.

The proposal to further restrict the growth of bamboo locally is being considered by the RTM after resident Gabriele Kellenborn collected enough petition signatures to place the proposal on the legislative body's agenda. Kellenborn said about 5,000 square feet of the fast-growing plant has overgrown her Edgewater Common Lane property.

Caryn Rickel, president and CEO of the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research in Seymour, spoke passionately about the dangers of invasive bamboo during.

"If I sound emotional, I'm getting calls every day for help in Connecticut," she said.

In fact, RTM Moderator Eileen Flug had to chastise Rickel several times for interrupting members during their remarks.

"It's very disruptive to have a debate about this," Flug said. "I understand your excitement, but we really have to keep the meeting running."

"You literally can't contain it when it gets to be mature," Rickel said of the "running bamboo," which according to Alicia Mozian, the town's conservation director, is only one of 1,400 kinds.

Rickel said this strain of bamboo was quarantined from 1918 through 1979, when laws relaxed. She said with the advent of the Internet, property owners were able to purchase bamboo more easily. "We have 600 infestations in Connecticut," Rickel said, and at least 35 in Westport.

"It will take your whole street out," she said. "It will take your sewers, your septics, your whole foundation," she said, explaining that the only way to combat the plant's relentless growth is to dig it out.

Mozian, however, raised several questions about the ordinance as proposed.

"The devil's in the details," she said, "and that's where my concern lies, and I'm not quite sure that the ordinance as written is ready for prime time and/or if we can't go another route."

She pointed out that, unlike the new state law limiting new bamboo growth within 100 feet of property lines, the local ordinance proposes a buffer zone that would require removal of existing bamboo plants within 40 feet of a property line. She said that, given this distance, a property owner would need at least two acres to even have any bamboo.

"There are 10,000 properties in the town," she said, raising questions of how effectively the restrictions could be enforced. "The only way it gets there is if it's planted, so is it really a problem where we have to have an ordinance, or can it be resolved through education of the homeowners?"

Mozian said it is unclear what authority should enforce the law, if enacted, but added it would require at least the addition of a part-time municipal employee. "This is going to take an inordinate amount of time," she said, adding that, as it stands, municipalities will also have to enforce the state law, although any fines assessed under those regulations revert back to the state.

Mozian also brought up the question of adjacent property owners who might share a bamboo boundary: "A lot of time the bamboo is used as screening between two properties, and what happens if the two property owners like it?"

Several RTM members said it wasn't the purview of the committee to decide on the validity of the ordinance, but only to decide it was ready to be brought before the full RTM for a vote.

"We'll need to meet again," Flug said, at which time the committee will vote on whether the ordinance is ready.