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East Hampton Village Battles Invasives

Thu, 06/22/2023 - 10:32
Hand-removal of invasive algae from Town Pond by village employees has proven ineffective.
Durell Godfrey

It was the East Hampton Village Board versus invasive plants at Friday’s meeting, and the board attacked with both legislation and action to reduce and remove the problematic plants from within its perimeters, especially Town Pond.

First came a public hearing, held open since the prior meeting, to amend the property maintenance and nuisance abatement law to strengthen prohibitions on bamboo. When the law was first passed, it included language about a homeowner’s “duty to remove preexisting bamboo.” The amended law includes calls for the homeowner to remove the bamboo “entirely or to the extent that it encroaches on or over any neighboring property or crosses any property line.” Fines are also increased to a maximum of $1,000 for a third and subsequent offenses.

The law will be enforced by Tom Preiato, the East Hampton Village building inspector. Should he receive a complaint, his first action will be to let the homeowner know of their violation. At that time, the homeowner has 10 days to request a hearing before him to discuss the infraction. If, after the hearing, he continues to hold the homeowner in violation, then the homeowner is required to remove the bamboo “within a prescribed reasonable time.”

If the homeowner disagrees, they have five days to appeal Mr. Preiato’s decision with the village’s zoning board of appeals.

If the Z.B.A. upholds Mr. Preiato’s determination and the homeowner doesn’t comply, the village can then remove the bamboo at its own expense and hold that expense as a lien against the homeowner.

Michael Kretchmar, who lives on McGuirk Street, spoke before the board about a Newtown Lane neighbor whose bamboo was invading his property. “It’s quite a nuisance,” he said.

Another neighbor said he had spent hours removing bamboo roots from his yard. “It’s insane what I’ve done.” But bamboo is tenacious. The resident described a house on Shelter Island that was overcome with the plant. When it was finally removed, “They dug out what looked like they were going to build a house and all they were doing was getting rid of the bamboo,” he said.

Invasive plants have also colonized the beloved Town Pond, roughly an acre in size. Department of Public Works employees have taken to entering the pond in a small boat and scooping out the plants, with muted results. “The weeds grow like weeds, quick and hard and they come fast,” said Kris Almskog, from P.W. Grosser Consulting, whom the village hired to provide options for clearing the pond.

He suggested the village get a general permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and control the growth with benthic mats. A benthic mat is a sheet of dark plastic that is weighed down by rebar rods to rest on the bottom of the pond. It blocks out light preventing plants from photosynthesizing, so they do not grow.

The mats would stay in place for two to three months, kill the invasives, and then be moved to other sections of the pond. They would be removed entirely in October or November and become the property of the village. They could be reused in subsequent years, or in different bodies of water.

In a statement, the D.E.C. said, “Benthic mats have a very low potential to impact the wildlife species using the pond. The village has attempted hand-pulling, which is less obtrusive, but it was not effective. If the project advances, the village would be responsible for ensuring benthic mat placement avoids fish spawning beds, if present.”

A walk to the pond on Monday morning yielded many frog sightings, but the D.E.C. said the mats would not harm the amphibians, turtles, or birds.

“Turtles and frogs are able to move out of the way during the installation of the mats,” said the D.E.C. “Further, it’s not likely that any wading birds would be impacted as the mat is similar to a tarp and is weighted down, usually with concrete blocks. There is no mesh to get entangled in.”

Gloria Frazee, a village resident and founding member of the ReWild Long Island East End Chapter, wondered about a long-term plan to improve the water quality. “Often, algae is fed by excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from lawn and garden fertilizer, septic systems and animal waste,” she wrote in an email. “Town Pond is fed by a large area, which is increasingly developed, and each new home apparently has to be surrounded by a huge lawn that is regularly treated with fertilizers and irrigated. The resulting runoff ends up in our waterways. It’s no wonder that nitrogen contamination of our groundwaters is increasing.”

If the village chooses to treat a third of the pond it would cost $74,000, for permits, installation, and mat relocation for the year. If it chooses to treat half, it would cost $97,000.

“I get a lot of complaints about the pond. I hear there’s no wildlife. Nothing in the pond,” said Mayor Jerry Larsen. “This is just going to be an ongoing maintenance problem forever?” he asked.

“It’s a very low-tech way to address the problem,” said Mr. Almskog. “It’s not going to solve the problem forever.”

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