A “KNEE-JERK” reaction to the Black Saturday bushfire disaster has wiped out hundreds of roadside trees on the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast, according to conservationists.
Surfers’ Environmental Protection Group’s Graeme Stockton said a Royal Commission report into the disaster had prompted Powercor to organise the lopping and poisoning of trees previously “lightly pruned” to clear room for powerlines.
He blamed new State Government laws enacted in response to the Royal Commission recommendations.
“The new legislation makes it unclear whether trees that were formerly protected by the flora and fauna guarantee act are still protected,” Mr Stockton said.
“Now that local councils aren’t the authority on tree clearing it’s unclear who these companies should be seeking permission from and obviously they’ve taken that to their advantage.”
Geelong Environment Council president Joan Lindros said 140 trees lost at Mannerim were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“The trees were in a signed biodiversity conservation area and the agreement in the past has been that Powercor cut off only the tops of the trees.”
Ms Lindros said the environment council sought compensation for revegetation costs after receiving advice against taking legal action.
“It appears we cannot sue Powercor for compensation and there will be no redress to replace the vegetation that has been destroyed.”
Bellarine Landcare Group acting president Peter Beresford said the estimated cost of revegetation at Mannerim was $250,000.
The group had contacted Geelong’s council, Department of Sustainability and Environment and Powercor more than two months ago about the new legislation but had not heard back, he said.
“We’ve had no feedback at all about what is going to happen in the future and it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
A Powercor spokesperson said an Electric Line Clearance Regulation code of practice allowed two metres of clearance between powerlines and trees.
But cutting down the trees to their base was “the most practical solution for the site”, the spokesperson said.
“Vemco, the company we used to cut the trees, carried out an ecological study of the site. Both Powercor and Vemco try to minimise any disruption to local environment while meeting their commitment to keep a safe distance between powerlines and trees.”
A City Hall spokesperson said contractors working for power companies in the area were “required” to notify council before clearing roadside vegetation.
“Enquiries relating to the clearing of roadside vegetation are continuing.”