Grafton resident Matt Clark at the former site of the 15-year-old, eight-metre high flame tree.
Grafton resident Matt Clark at the former site of the 15-year-old, eight-metre high flame tree.

Flame tree flare-up

CLARENCE Valley Council stirred up a hornet’s nest when its workers removed a 15-year-old flame tree from outside Matt Clark’s Bacon Street residence last week.

Mr Clark, a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger and an acknowledged expert in the identification and propagation of native flora, is furious with the council over what he says is a stupid decision that flouts council regulations and due process.

On Wednesday Mr Clark had returned home for lunch and when he left to return to work at around 2.20pm he found six council workmen, an excavator and a truck removing the tree from the nature strip outside his property.

When confronted, the workers had told him they intended removing the trees outside his property because of complaints from a neighbour. He said the foreman called his boss at council, open spaces operations coordinator technical George Nowak, after Mr Clark demanded that the workers stop removing the trees. Mr Clark was furious at the lack of courtesy and process the council displayed to him.

“They were supposed to send me a letter informing me that they intended to take the trees,” he said.

“They could have phoned or sent me an email. And, despite my car being in the driveway, none of these six workers could even come and knock on my door to tell me what they intended to do.”

In an email Mr Clark outlined what happened when he spoke with deputy general manager Des Schroder soon after.

“I told him about what had just happened, and also my only previous dealing with CVC about the trees in the street, on August 27, 2009, when I was visited by Mr George Nowak who raised four reasons why these trees have to be removed – two of which were factually incorrect, and two spurious bordering upon ridiculous,” Mr Clark said.

“They were: because they were an impediment to drainage (not), they ‘might’ grow into the powerlines (not), loss of a parking space (ridiculous) and pedestrian safety (utterly ridiculous). I then told Mr Schroeder of my undertakings to maintain the vegetation that day, and the subsequent actions I had taken in managing the trees in order to placate Mr Nowak, that I completed within half an hour of him leaving the premises on August 27, 2009 – the only time the matter had ever been discussed.

“I then told Mr Schroder I was disgusted about the actions, the lack of process, lack of basic courtesy, the complete lack of knowledge of his staff, and that he should register my phone call as notification of an official complaint about the council’s actions.”

On Friday Mr Clark delivered a statutory declaration to council containing his account of his meeting and discussions with George Nowak on August 27 last year.

The document details a meeting with Mr Nowak which Mr Clark said showed that council agreed to leave the trees in place if Mr Clark agreed to maintain the drain and trees.

Mr Clark has extensive expertise in planting trees in built-up areas. He has completed two degrees and worked as a local government environmental consultant. He has been the local NPWS delegate on the Susan Island trust.

“Most of the plants I’ve put in out there are from seeds gathered on Susan Island,” he said. “They are plants that once would have been part of the rainforest that grew naturally here before the land was cleared.”

Mr Schroder was unavailable for comment.

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