[author]Story Luis Feliu Video Sharon Shostak[/author]
An environmental campaigner has called for a stay of execution on a stand of mature native trees along a koala corridor at Pottsville which are planned to be chopped down early this year to make way for a community health centre at Pottsville.
Tweed Shire councillors, with the exception of the Greens Cr Katie Milne, recently voted to approve the $2.5 million centre, to be built by the North Coast Area Health Service on council-owned land in Elizabeth Street next to the Pottsville Neighbourhood Centre.
The stand includes a large 90-year-old forest redgum and several other koala food trees. Veteran tree-protection and planting campaigner Jim Warburton pleaded with councillors at the last community access meeting to ensure the health centre was designed and built around the large redgum tree which was used by four to five koalas with their young as they travelled through the area.
Mr Warburton said the redgum was ‘irreplaceable’ and should be protected by council under state legislation.
He said council had been ‘bullied’ by the state health authorities ‘saying they can’t design the centre around the tree, but 43 car parking spaces will be built there instead, so there’s panic’.
He said the tree had been assessed to be worth over $200,000 ‘even without koalas’ and many local children and older people wanted it to stay.
‘The health of people is the health of koalas; this tree is a significant remnant in an urban area… if you kill that tree, it’s not in anyone’s interest,’ Mr Warburton concluded.
Jenny Hayes, the president of Tweed-based Team Koala which has around 500 members, told Echonetdaily that the redgum, grey gum, swamp mahogany and tallowood on the vacant block were vital to the survival of the Tweed Coast’s endangered koalas, which numbered around 140.
Ms Hayes said the health centre and the trees could co-exist.
She said koala scratchings on the bark of the big redgum proved koalas from the Pottsville-area colony still used it as a ‘stepping stone’ as they travelled between the area’s wetlands and the hinterland.
Cr Katie Milne told council ‘every single koala food tree is fundamental to the future of koalas’.
‘I don’t want to see a situation where the health of the community is in conflict with the health of koalas but that is what we are facing; the Pottsville area has been identified as being critical to koalas. Taking out one tree is taking out the koala corridor.’
The latest appeal to save the tree comes as the state government announced an extra $438,000 to speed up the construction of the centre, for which tenders will soon be called.
Health minister Jillian Skinner and Tweed MP Geoff Provest said in a recent joint statement they had agreed to provide the extra money to progress the ‘one-stop shop’ health centre project for which planning had started eight years ago.
Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) told Echonetdaily, ‘by giving its approval to the DA, the Tweed Shire Council has indicated it considers that the removal of the tree is reasonable, so that an optimum HealthOne Centre can be developed.’
‘The NNSWLHD’s Capital Works Unit has advised that the architectural design of the new HealthOne Centre does not allow for the tree to remain, as it would negatively impact on the structure of the HealthOne Centre.’