Port Stephens Council has come under fire for the removal of community trees from a memorial garden at the Anna Bay Cemetery and the clearing of vegetation in nearby Salamander Bay.
The Examiner was last week contacted by community advocates and volunteers who claim that the clearing was carried out in a reckless manner and without community consultation.
While longtime Anna Bay resident Maureen Balzer described the removal of decade-old shrubs planted in memory of lost loved ones as "a hack job", council insists the garden was cleaned up to remove several plants and noxious weeds in line with the Biosecurity Act 2015.
"The works carried out in the Anna Bay Cemetery were in response to complaints made about the state of the garden and as they were maintenance works the community was not notified," the spokesperson said.
"Weeds, damaged trees and self-seeding species were removed to tidy the gardens and reduce the safety risk to our environment and the community [and] the garden was widened to 2m and replanted.
"We have also created a dedicated garden full of coastal native rosemary in honour of Anzac service men and women who have lost their lives. All large trees in the area were left and trimmed to preserve the area."
Ms Balzer said it was very upsetting for her family to see the trees cut down.
"I had one lady tell me that she left the cemetery in tears after witnessing the removal of the plants. We always enjoyed watching the birds feeding off the grevilleas and bottle brush and banksias. How do you replace more than eight years of growth?"
Another Anna Bay resident Kelly Hammond took her personal disappointment and concerns to the council demanding an apology.
"Why didn't the council connect with our landcare team to prune and weed the garden rather than desecrate? The area was previously planted by the community and paid for by the community."
Ms Hammond believes that a simple meeting with the community could have prevented a lot of heartbreak.
"The damage at the cemetery cannot be reversed, but an apology is a start to the many volunteers, family members and loved ones buried at Anna Bay Cemetery."
In Salamander Bay, resident Cherylle Stone said that she was angered to see the destruction of vegetation on land between Bannisters and the Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club.
"I cannot understand why the council would allow for the desecration of these native grasses, shrubs and mature trees? The undergrowth was cleared and lower limbs were removed from trees and saplings chopped off," she said.
"The area in my opinion is not a high fire risk because it is a very small zone protected from the south and west by large buildings, surrounded by extensive lawn and hard surfaces, and from the north and east by water with roads all round."
The council spokesperson said that these works were carried out by council contractors to install a 10m asset protection zone (APZ) around the aquatic club.
"The NSW Rural Fire Service issued council (land owner) a hazard complaint notice on March 4. Work scheduling and weather events have resulted in the notice being completed now. An environmental assessment was completed before works began. We are now investigating options for replanting the area with fire retardant vegetation to reduce maintenance and erosion, while improving safety."