Does this healthy tree have to die?

April 11, 2018

HANDS OFF: Jennafer Whelan is fighting to save a tree she says is more than 200 years old.

HANDS OFF: Jennafer Whelan is fighting to save a tree she says is more than 200 years old.

A TREE which is older than Echuca will be cut down to make way for the Echuca-Moama bridge project.

But one Campaspe Shire councillor, the Echuca Historical Society and a passionate woman who lives near it are doing everything they can to stop that from happening.

It is a piece of history they do not want to see lost.

The gum tree on the corner of Campaspe Espl and Warren St is estimated to be between 250-350 years old but according to VicRoads it is not recorded as significant with Campaspe Shire or state authorities.

Campaspe Shire councillor Annie Vickers said she would not go down without a fight and if VicRoads took away the tree it would have to take her too.

‘‘Over my dead body,’’ she said.

‘‘This is only the start of the fight.

‘‘When it’s been there for that many years, it’s healthy, why would you even consider removing this tree?

‘‘Haven’t we lost enough trees for this bridge without removing something that cannot be replaced?’’

As part of the bridge project, VicRoads is widening the road on Warren St, which it said would mean the tree would have to go.

Bridge project manager Jason Warren said his team recognised the environment’s importance but the tree would have to be removed.

‘‘We recognise the importance of the environment to the community and work hard to minimise our impact on the natural surroundings,’’ he said.

‘‘VicRoads has undertaken a number of measures as part of our rigorous planning, which includes comprehensive identification of all trees along the whole project alignment to help identify and minimise the number of trees needing to be removed.

‘‘Sadly, this particular tree cannot feasibly be incorporated into the final Warren St design and will need to be removed.’’

VicRoads said several options were explored throughout the planning and design phase to try and save the tree but the proposed design alternatives did not meet road safety or road design guidelines nor guarantee the tree’s long-term health.

Jennafer Whelan, who lives near the tree, said it was a travesty.

‘‘It’s the largest and oldest tree close to the Echuca CBD,’’ Mrs Whelan said.

‘‘When Echuca’s into preserving history what could be more important than Echuca’s living history?

‘‘It deserves its survival. We need to keep our living history because we’ve lost so much of old Echuca.’’

Mrs Whelan said the tree was affectionately known as the Octopus tree because of its eight main branches. She said the tree was steeped in history.

‘‘It’s very close to where the Yorta Yorta people camped when they first arrived in Echuca,’’ Mrs Whelan said.

‘‘The tree has seen many changes. It has welcomed and farewelled locals and visitors for so long. It has survived droughts, bushfires, floods and urbanisation.’’

Instead of cutting down the tree, Mrs Whelan believes Campaspe Esplanade — at the intersection of Warren St — should be closed to traffic.

‘‘That would mean the tree would be saved,’’ she said.

‘‘I certainly don’t believe every option has been investigated. VicRoads could re-design the widened road to take this tree into account.’’

Echuca Historical Society president Dot Hammond said it was a beautiful tree and it should remain.

‘‘I emailed all of our members and I’ve got quite a few replies back and everyone is in favour of keeping it,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s part of our living history. You don’t get a big tree like that in 24 hours.’’

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Loddon Mallee program manager natural environment, Jill Fleming, said the age of the tree did not matter.

“The age of a tree is not factored in directly but the significance of the vegetation that it represents is considered within the Environmental Effects Assessment that VicRoads was requested to do for the Minister of Planning for the construction of the Echuca-Moama Bridge,’’ she said in a statement.

“The single tree in question would have been identified as a large old tree.

“VicRoads is required to offset the vegetation loss, including any trees and patch vegetation, associated with all the infrastructure and development of the bridge.”

The total number of trees to be removed along Warren St will depend on the overall ‘‘construction footprint’’ which will be known once the contractor has been appointed.

In the meantime, VicRoads has engaged consultants to undertake detailed tree mapping to identify all trees along the project alignment.

This mapping is now being used to refine the stage two design.

VicRoads said it was seeking to minimise the number of trees to be removed, ‘‘noting that the widening of the road formation will still impact on a significant number of trees’’.

It also said it had met several times with Warren St residents last year to discuss the need for tree removals and would continue to do so.

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