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Brookhaven residents debate law on bamboo

A bamboo shoot in Medford. (March 28, 2012)

A bamboo shoot in Medford. (March 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Holding stalks of bamboo, Brookhaven residents at Tuesday's town board meeting spoke about the nuisance of the fast-growing plant -- but also worried about the practical consequences of a townwide ban.

"I've lost many nights of sleep worrying about what's going to happen to my property," said Robert Berry of Shirley, who brought a bag of foot-long stalks that he said sprouted from his neighbor's yard in one week and threatened his new cesspool. "This has to be stopped."

The running, or fast-spreading, bamboo is the subject of a proposed law that would penalize homeowners who plant it. Residents who already grow bamboo must prevent it from spreading to other property. Fines would range from $500 to $2,000 for a first violation. Smithtown and some villages have similar laws.

Critics say the bamboo, which can grow a foot a day in optimal conditions, poses a structural threat to foundations, sidewalks, swimming pools and cesspools.

Jennifer Gargiulo of Coram said, "I'm concerned for the safety of my children," who have tripped over the shoots suddenly appearing in her yard.

Some residents criticized the proposed fines, citing the already high expense of clearing the bamboo.

Brian Sexton said he inherited about a quarter acre of the plant when he bought his home in East Setauket in 2009. He hired a landscaper to clear the bamboo and agreed it's a nuisance, but disliked the idea of a town ban. "To levy fines is ridiculous," Sexton said.

Tony Chau of Setauket was one of bamboo's few defenders. He acknowledged its unchecked growth was a "problem" but defended the plant's many practical uses. "We should have people work together," he said.Deputy supervisor Kathy Walsh, who introduced the proposed law, said she didn't expect the "outpouring" of public input and will accept further public written comment until May 4.


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