SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield Borough Council, at a virtual meeting April 5, introduced an ordinance that, if approved upon second reading, would establish regulations for the planting, growing, and/or containment of bamboo within the municipality. 

Ordinance 2200, which was established by the borough's Environmental Commission, would grant the municipality the authority to 'control the planting, growing, maintenance and/or containment of bamboo' and 'preserve and protect private and public property from the damaging spread of running bamboo.' 

"We don’t have statistics on how widespread the problem is, but we have been getting complaints more frequently as time goes on from residents whose neighbors' bamboo is encroaching on their property," said Alice Tempel, the borough's environmental specialist, telling TAPinto that, in South Plainfield, bamboo from an adjacent property is encroaching onto public land both on the New Market Avenue side of the Nature Reserve while on Audubon Avenue bamboo is starting to come up through the pavement.  

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"The American Bamboo Association states that it is virtually impossible to stop running bamboo from spreading," she said. "The purpose of the ordinance is to control the problem before it becomes more widespread here."

Under the ordinance, planting of non-running bamboo would remain permitted as long as it is contained entirely in above-ground level planters, barrels, etc. However, the planting and/or installation of 'running bamboo' -  any monopodial woody grass from the genera of bamboos (including but not limited to, Bambusa, Phyllostachys, and Pseudosasa as well as common, golden, and arow bamboo) – would not be permitted on any property within the borough. 

"It has been found that certain types of bamboo spread rapidly underground through systems and underground rhizomes, thereby damaging and infesting nearby property," states the ordinance. “… Invasive forms of bamboo will, by their nature, invade, infest, and damage other plants, roads, sidewalks, buildings, and structures in nearby properties and areas… invasive forms of bamboo are not readily controlled by customary or readily available agricultural measures."

Under the ordinance, if bamboo is located and a complaint in regard to its encroachment or invasion (on any adjoining/neighboring private or public property or public right-a-way or in any buffer zone) is received an inspection by the borough's property maintenance officials will take place. If it is determined as such, the running bamboo owner(s) and the owner of any affected property will be notified and remediation and approved confinement and/or removal will be required by the running bamboo owner(s). The running bamboo owners(s) would have 30 days to submit a plan for remediation and an additional 90 days to complete its removal. 

Per the ordinance, a violation of any provision of the ordinance will be subject to penalties that can include a fine not to exceed $100 for each day in which a violation has occurred and/or imprisonment for a term of not more than 30 days with each day the violation occurring constituting a separate offense. 

Additionally, should the encroachment be on public property or public right-of-way, and the running bamboo owner(s) and/or occupant has not complied, the borough, at its discretion, may remove or contract for the removal with the financial responsibility that of the bamboo owner(s) and/or occupants. 

During the April 9 meeting, Mayor Matt Anesh stated that the language in the ordinance is 'standard' to ordinances of this nature and Paul Rizzo, the borough's attorney, confirmed that the wordage is similar to other municipal ordinances of this nature and that it is 'extremely unlikely' someone would go to jail.

"This just gives the judge the discretion if he feels the issues warrants it…" said Rizzo. 

Ordinance 2200 was approved upon first reading by a 4-1 vote; Council President Derryck White was not present and Councilman Joe Wolak opposed. 

While he feels the 'intentions are good,' Wolak told TAPinto that, in his opinion, 'the ordinance goes too far by banning what a property owner can grow on their own private property,' that 'the borough not dictate what people can grow on their property,' and that the bamboo owner should not be responsible for 'restoring someone else's property.'

"The ordinance states that if an adjacent property owner complains about bamboo growing into their property, the property owner will be responsible for the restoration of said property. Restoration of what? This will be decided by the property maintenance official, whether the property owner planted it or whether it was there when they purchased the property," said Wolak. "In my opinion this goes way too far and will create an issue when selling or buying a house. If this is passed, a potential home buyer will need to get their yard inspected for illegal bamboo."

He continued, "How will anyone know where the bamboo originally came from, and why should a property owner be responsible for someone else property? At the very least, this part of the ordinance should be deleted and, if adjacent property is being invaded by said bamboo, then the bamboo owner should eliminate the bamboo invading his property at the property line."

Ordinance 2200 is expected to go up for a second vote/adoption on Monday, April 19 at 7 p.m. Residents can attend the meeting virtually from any computer or mobile device by logging on here and entering code '126 663 1990.' Public comments are welcome. 

Editor’s Note: TAPinto South Plainfield reached out to Councilman Peter Smith, liaison to the borough’s environmental commission, for comment. Smith stated he would not discuss the ordinance until after Monday night’s vote.

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