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Support, concern raised over county’s proposed fine for invasive bamboo

Bamboo (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is looking to crack down on running bamboo spreading to properties across the region.

Residents expressed both support for and concern about proposed fines for property owners who allow bamboo to spread during a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Feb. 22).

The board deferred a decision on adopting an ordinance to March 22, suggesting ways to address the concerns raised about the new rules.

“I think it’s clear we’re going to address this. The question is making sure we get the language right,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said, thanking speakers for helping the county make the ordinance as effective as possible.

Under the county’s proposal, property owners who receive complaints for failing to contain running bamboo would be required to address the issue within 30 days of getting a notice of the violation. Fines would start at $50 for a first violation and go up to $200 for each subsequent incident, with penalties capped at $3,000 in a year-long period.

The county has considered an ordinance for years but pursued educational efforts simultaneously. In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing localities to regulate bamboo.

Complications with creating an ordinance were evident at the public hearing. Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw hypothetically noted that someone who had bamboo spread from a neighbor’s property to theirs and then to another neighbor’s would mean that both they and the original homeowner would be responsible.

“It’s not just the original planter of the bamboo,” Walkinshaw said.

He suggested the county should have a policy about not pursuing fines if it’s unclear who was initially responsible.

Fairfax County Director of Code Compliance Jack Weyant said the county would first pursue educational efforts, distributing flyers and working with homeowners, before fines were considered.

Speakers at the meeting, including Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, also raised concerns about how the amount of the proposed fines could affect residents.

“If you’re on a fixed income, you could lose your house over that,” resident Judi Johnson said, calling the maximum penalty horrifying. She added that bamboo isn’t a monster, saying it’s just people haven’t learned how to work with it.

In contrast, resident Petra Riedel-Willems says she has been inundated by bamboo on all sides around her property.

“I strongly, strongly support this ordinance,” she said, adding that she feared it might lead people to use environmentally harmful pesticides and wants to avoid that.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said that running bamboo is still sold commercially and allowed by the state.

“It would be nice to be able to turn the spigot off so that…we’re not at least seeing additional problems emerge,” he said.

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