Members of the Wahgunyah and District Men’s Shed feel robbed after being forced to pay thousands of dollars to poison and ringbark an already dead tree.
To add insult to injury, they were slapped with a $4581.50 bill to cover offset credits for the poisoned tree and minor pruning of two other trees near the soon-to-be-built men’s shed at Wahgunyah’s Racecourse and Recreation Reserve.
This was despite the group trying to negotiate other options, including planting trees in a relevant location within the Wahgunyah area.
The group was forced to use its $8500 community grant from Indigo Council to cover the debt, a grant that was meant to fit out the shed with electricity and tools.
Men’s Shed President Len Carlson described the expensive debacle as a “ridiculous bureaucratic situation”.
“The tree in question had a rotten centre and so we have paid for something that was going to hit the deck,” he said.
“It’s a ridiculous bureaucratic situation.”
The fiasco unfolded after the group alerted Federation Council to the danger of some large gum trees potentially falling near its building site.
Mr Carlson said the specific site for the men’s shed was chosen to enable the group to take advantage of the new facilities at the reserve, such as toilets, at the new community function centre.
“Since the construction of the new function centre and change rooms was a council project there was no requirement for a fire and flood risk assessment to be provided, nor any consideration of any environmental issues,” he said.
“The exemptions were open to council with a project under $1 million but not available to a volunteer, not-for-profit organisation.”
Mr Carlson said the tall trees on the eastern side of the new facility were not taken into account when constructing the new community facility, even though casual observation would indicate they were a potential threat to the existing football change rooms.
“Nevertheless, these trees had to be taken into account in the construction of our men’s shed, from both a safety and an environmental prospective,” he said.
An arborist’s assessment was obtained, which recommended that a tree with a rotten centre be ringbarked and poisoned while being retained as a habitat tree.
There was also a recommendation to trim two other trees in the vicinity.
The arborist cost $570, while an assessment report was $2112.
“All together that’s over $7200 that could have been put into the shed and got us up and running already,” Mr Carlson said.
“Our grant from council has almost gone on just these trees.”
The assessment was provided to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, along with the bushfire and flood risk assessments for approval to build the shed on Crown Land.
The approval was granted subject to conditions, including paying $4581.50 in offset credits for the death of the tree to be poisoned and the pruning of two other trees.
Mr Carlson said the reserve has dozens of saplings springing to life since the floods late last year.
“We were told that these were not acceptable as offsets as they were on Crown Land,” he said.
Indigo Council Natural Resources staff tried to negotiate other options, including planting donated or surplus trees by the Green Army, in a relevant location within the Wahgunyah area, but this was rejected by DELWP.
“We did the right thing and it has cost us,” Mr Carlson said.
The group registered as a men’s shed almost 12 months ago and received a $26,500 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase the building materials and have the shed constructed.
Mr Carlson said the group would like to recoup the cost.
“We are really scratching at the moment because our grant has been used up with the building, which will hopefully be put up next week,” he said.
“While we have been frustrated by these hurdles, the most aggravating part is the government giving us a $26,500 grant on one hand and then taking part of it back.
“We would like the relevant members of government to correct this and return the funds to the men’s shed.”
Mr Carlson met with Member for Benambra Bill Tilley at the building site during his recent visit to Rutherglen as part of his regular electorate rounds.
“We explained the situation and he was taken back and could see how unfair it was on a community group,” Mr Carlson said.
“Bill said he couldn’t guarantee anything but he would go in and bat for us and try to get something.”
Mr Tilley told the Free Press he was not impressed with the large cost imposed on the group.
“They are a community group, it’s not like they are not developers,” he said.
“I have written to the minister asking he look at the cost imposed on the group as a result of doing the right thing.”