Bamboo sounds harmless enough, but a new law that calls for fines of $100 could put a damper on the buying and selling of the aggressive plant.
The law came about because running bamboo, an aggressive variety, was causing damage when spreading to neighboring properties.
As a result of the damage the plants have caused, lawmakers clamped down. If someone already has the plant or intends to plant it in the future, they could be subject to fines of $100. And any retailer or installer who violates the law will now face the same $100 penalty.
Mark R. Sussman, chair of the Murtha Cullina Environmental Practice Group, said that sellers of the product may be reluctant to sell it now. The legislation goes into effect Oct. 1.
"I wonder how many garden centers are going to sell it?" Sussman asked.
If they do, they will have to provide a handout to explain the new running bamboo law, he said. Any retailer or installer of running bamboo has to give buyers a "statement saying it's a fast growing plant and it can spread," Sussman said.
City officials were educated on the new law last week at the Milford City Hall Auditorium. UConn and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection held a workshop there to explain the new running bamboo law.
The law creates setbacks from property lines and containment requirements for anyone who wants to grow the plant.
Sussman said that while most environmental regulations are enforced by the Attorney General or the state's DEP, the statute has provisions to delegate to local authorities. Sussman said that while the invasive species is a significant issue, the DEP likely realizes they don't have the staff to handle this, he said.
"My experience is that in most cases it will be a municipal function," Sussman said. "I just think given the staffing … this would not be one of the primary ones they will be pursuing."
Connecticut isn't the only state to enact such a law.
According to the Wall Street Journal, earlier this year, Huntingon, N.Y., prohibited residents from planting any new running bamboo. The law also calls for them to contain bamboo that has already been planted. If they don't comply, they face fines. Also, an ordinance in Brick, N.J., calls for allowing town officials to remove the bamboo and bill the property owner if they don't control the plant, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Diane Whitney, chair of the Environmental Law Department at Pullman & Comley, said she thinks that at some point the legislation will create more work for lawyers. She is not sure how many residents will be affected.
"Coincidentally, I have a friend who planted this kind of running bamboo, having no information about its potential problems. It seems as if there is a real potential for some number of cases like that, where the damage will already be done, or at least already in process, before the owner is aware of the issues it causes. And my understanding is that it is very, very hard to get rid of the stuff."
Theresa Groff, of Preston, wrote a letter in March to the state's Environmental Committee, urging them to impose "full and continuing liability to the person or persons growing damaging Phyllostachys bamboo on his or her property."
She said the plant "knows no boundaries."
"For the last four months, I have identified and photographed 94 invasions of Phyllostachys aureosulcata bamboo within a 26 mile radius of my residents. I'm sure there are more sites I haven't found. The plant sends up new shoots in spring and summer growing 2 feet per day and requires cutting with a saw. Each plant, called a culm grows to a diameter of 3 and a half inches and as tall as 45 feet to entangle utility lines. At maturity, the roots spread as much as 20 feet per year causing continual damage to surrounding property."
Caryn Rickel of Seymour, a creator of the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research, was quoted by CT.com as saying that "this bill was long overdue, as bamboo victims with serious damages are calling from every town for help."
CT.com also quoted William Hyatt, the chairman of Connecticut's Invasive Plants Council, as saying that if he was a property owner he "would find that [liability issue] a significant disincentive for planting bamboo."•