The clearing of tree branches and vegetation on a reserve off Soldiers Point Road at Soldiers Point has generated an angry backlash among residents in the community.
The Examiner has received correspondence from residents critical of the work, with calls of "unnecessary destruction of vegetation" and "environmental vandalism".
Port Stephens Council told the Examiner that a contractor had been tasked with pruning the overhanging branches on trees lining the road to the launching ramp because they posed a falling and fire risk.
"Bannisters Hotel insurer requested that the surrounding bushland be managed to ensure the safety of the site. To protect as much of the environment as possible while still reducing the risk, council officers assessed and limited the required works, and counter balanced these with environmental offsets," the spokesperson said.
"The work included the removal of vegetation which could have the potential to cause a future fire fuel load, vegetation that may cause flames to rise in the mid and upper strata layers and vegetation which could cause personal injury.
"Council's vegetation management officer monitors the site during the works to ensure they're carried out correctly."
The spokesperson said that Bannisters was required to engage a qualified arborist and a bush regeneration contractor, provide offsets for any vegetation that was removed, collect koala feed tree seeds, and cover all costs for these works.
"Council conducts vegetation management on a risk basis. If trees on council land pose a risk and the adjoining landowner is willing to pay to conduct vegetation management sooner than we are able to, we allow this [to happen]."
Longtime Soldiers Point resident and environmental advocate Cherylle Stone said that she was outraged at what she claimed was the unnecessary destruction of vegetation in the reserve.
She said that she had written to the council and was awaiting a reply.
"I observed the contractor pruning limbs 10 metres off the ground from at least six eucalypts no more than 15 years old, all healthy and which in my eyes posed no fire or falling risk. In addition, ground cover has been flattened, yet the undergrowth that was supposedly causing a fire risk was removed only eight months ago."
Kathy Brown, speaking on behalf of the Soldiers Point-Salamander Bay Landcare group, said that an alternate approach to mitigate the fire hazard would have been to install sprinklers on the edge of the lawn area, where some saplings had been recently cut at ground level.
"There is a precedence here, as Bannisters have installed sprinklers on a public park in the past. Surely this would have been a better way to guard against a fire risk," Ms Brown said.
She said that in March 2021, several Landcare members accompanied officers of the Rural Fire Service who inspected the Asset Protection Zone and expressed the view that there was no fire danger to the hotel at that time.
"Young saplings have been removed entirely, random branches of young trees have been removed and much undergrowth damaged as the limbs have been dragged out to Seaview Crescent."
In a letter to the Examiner, Kelly Earnshaw, also from Soldiers Point, called for an investigation into what she described as 'environmental vandalism' in the area.
"As locals we want to protect what's ours."
The Examiner contacted Bannisters management for a comment but had not received a response by Tuesday deadline.
The council spokesperson added that Bannisters had secured a vegetation permit for the works and that they were required to engage a bush regeneration contractor to revegetate the site, including planting 800 new plants.
"These local, mostly endemic plants have been selected due their fire resistance. The contractor will also conduct weeding, manage placement of felled logs for habitat and collect seeds from koala feed trees. These seeds are often hard to obtain and are being provided to Port Stephens Council in an effort to produce a heathy surplus of seedlings to be planted across Port Stephens. There are no koala feed trees being removed as part of these works."
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