Compared to the massacre which they have perpetrated at the Ravenswood interchange of the Calder Freeway, Vicroads’ plans for tree removal along the Pyrenees Highway are pretty small beer.
All the same, FOBIF has opposed the extent of tree removal, and has proposed a set of alternatives, including rumble strips and an 80kph speed restriction [see our post]. We believe that these measures are more important in preserving life than the Vicroads alternative: allowing unsafe speeds, and trying to deal with the consequences. In detailed discussions with engineers, however, we have been told that these suggestions were not practicable.
We’ve been in this situation before: ten years ago we were told that an 80k limit on the road between Golden Point Road and Elphinstone simply wouldn’t work. Now, guess what? The 80k limit has been imposed. What’s more, the same limit has been imposed on the Midland, between Castlemaine and Harcourt, a vastly more manageable road than the winding, narrow stretch between Green Gully and Newstead with numerous access driveways.
Further, Vicroads accepted a lower speed limit on its parallel project near Rushworth last year. Chief Executive John Merritt was quoted at the time as follows: “It’s essentially around reducing the speed for part of that road as an alternative to just clearing a wider path.”
According to the Midland Express [July 5], the Midland speed reduction has caused some ‘outrage’ in social media, although it is estimated to add only 30 seconds to the trip between Castlemaine and Harcourt. In our opinion, this ‘outrage’ highlights the problem: is it Vicroads’ job to accommodate those who want to drive at maximum speeds at all times, or is it more important for road authorities to engage in a sustained campaign to educate drivers to drive to local conditions?
All the same, some reductions in tree removal on the Pyrenees Highway project seem to have been agreed by VicRoads, which has offered to provide some offset in the form of a donation of tubestock for planting in the local area.
Representatives of Newstead Landcare have put a lot of work into trying to make the best of this latter offer, and have composed the following response, which FOBIF has supported:
‘As discussed with you on 17 June, we appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the project, in particular implementing local offset solutions for the vegetation that is re- moved.
‘We also noted the discussions around speed and speed limits re: what is a safe speed on that stretch of road? Of local experiences, especially around the Green Gully intersection (and through the Muckleford forest in general, from Symes Road to Newstead township) and particularly where wildlife is a factor in vehicle stopping distance. Anecdotal evidence from Wildlife Victoria is that “that piece of roadway is well known to us”. This adds to the local evidence from our police and local media, as also discussed. We are currently await- ing some data from Wildlife Victoria on wildlife rescues from vehicle incidents on the project stretch of road.
‘We do not support the program of tree removal along the project stretch of road, and would also prefer to see lowered speed limits introduced. However we do recognise the importance of offsets and most importantly, local solutions developed using local knowl- edge and experience.
‘It is also worth noting that the Newstead Community Plan (2013) highlighted strong com- munity values around the natural environment: “Newstead’s physical attributes ranked highest (22%), closely followed by its facilities and events (20%), community spirit (16%) and natural attributes (15%)” …. “Protecting our natural environmental assets and open spaces” was seen as a key challenge, alongside “Accommodating population growth in ecologically sensitive and fire prone environment, esp. in surrounding areas of township” …
‘More information on community values around the natural environment can be found in the Plan – https://newsteadplan.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/ncp-final-web1.pdf.
‘We have based our suggestions on the following principles:
- that the offset locatio’ns are on public land;
- that the offset sites reflect the EVC (Ecological Vegetation Class) being removed, orwill enhance a locally threatened/high value EVC/site;
- that offset locations are in the local vicinity of the project works;
- that the offset sites contribute to work already being undertaken or are part of a land-scape/local plan;
- that the focus of the offset will be on improving habitat and biodiversity values at the site;
- that the measures include recompense for the removal of understorey and grasses,not just large and medium trees;
- that measures are not limited to revegetation/planting, but include protection of rem-nant vegetation/retention of habitat;We also support the idea that local contractors and businesses be used for the offset works, and that local provenance species are used wherever possible for plantings. We don’t believe that volunteers should be expected to carry out site preparation, planting and guarding, since they would prefer that no trees be culled. A list of possible contrac- tors can be found at http://cdn.connectingcountry.org.au/press/wp-content/uploads/ 2014/09/15053227/Contractor-List_updated-13JAN2016_Final.pdf (and is attached, Ap- pendix 5). Conservation Volunteers Australia or local Green Army crews are other possi- bilities.’Four potential sites have been identified:
- Rotunda Park Newstead (revegetation) – SITE 1
- Confluence of the Muckleford Creek and Loddon River (revegetation) – SITE 2
- Gully on the south side of Pyrenees Highway Green Gully (protection of remnants, nestboxes) – SITE 3
- Gravel area on curve at entrance to Newstead township (revegetation) – SITE 4
…’A brief description, list of plant species and guidance on numbers has been provided for each site:
‘SITE 1- Rotunda Park Newstead – https://goo.gl/maps/3iKsP9YPTau
- Specifically the “open woodland” area to the east of the BBQ area and old rotunda site and the easement which runs alongside the Park, from McLaren Road down to the Maldon-Newstead Road.
- More info on the site can be found here:- https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/significant-places/rotunda-park-newstead/- https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/category/special-places/rotunda-park/
– https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/significant-places/rotunda-park-newstead/the-park-in-2016/• Newstead Natives have provided a suggested species list and quote on numbers for the site. See Appendix 1.
‘SITE 2 – Confluence of the Muckleford Creek and Loddon River – https://goo.gl/ maps/mSN3wkGqnhC2
- This is a highly significant site. With well-established River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in abundance, the establishment of native understorey and grasses to crowd out weeds is a priority.
- More info on this site can be found here:- https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/significant-places/loddon-river-newstead/spring-2009-bird-list/• Newstead Natives have provided a suggested species list and quote on numbers for the site. See Appendix 2.’SITE 3 – Gully on the south side of Pyrenees Highway Green Gully – https://goo.gl/ maps/3hzp3ahHkAA2
- This is a wet gully on the south side of the project area (so should not be affected by any planned burning in the Muckleford Forest) and the closest site to tree removals. The suggestion is for three to six 10m x 10m exclusion plots to allow natural regeneration of understorey and protect existing vegetation, plus installing nest boxes.
- More info on the area in proximity to the site can be found here:- https://natureshare.org.au/collections/53b39819e35eb129840000fd
- – https://mucklefordforest.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/muckleford-forest-an-important-bird-and- biodiversity-area/
- – https://mucklefordforest.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/guarding-our-internationally-important-bird- area/
- – https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/?s=demo+track• A map outlining area plus costing on exclusion fencing is provided (based on 10m x 10m plot). See Appendix 3.SITE 4 – Gravel area on curve at entrance to Newstead township (revegetation) -https://goo.gl/maps/8aejGf7CWTm
- This site is a potential location for understorey and grasses and would significantly im- prove the entrance to the township; at present an eyesore. It would also provide a prominent location for signage.
- Newstead Natives have provided a suggested species list and quote on numbers for the site. See Appendix 4.
‘We would also ask that VicRoads consult again with our community when it comes to the stage of planning and implementing the offset measures. This will ensure there is clear understanding of the process and contribute to future local support and ownership of the offset works.
‘If you have further questions about these specific suggestions, or about local offsets more generally, please contact Janet Barker on 0439 003 469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Kavanagh (for Newstead Landcare Group)
Bernard Slattery (for Friends of Box Ironbark Forests)