By CASEY NEILL
The Noble Park community is reeling following shock news that dozens of 200-year-old river red gums would become mulch or firewood to make way for the sky rail.
Greater Dandenong councillors said the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) blindsided them with the news on Wednesday 10 August that it would remove all trees on Mons Parade between Heatherton Road and Briggs Crescent on the weekend.
River red gums made up 66 of the 94 trees on the chopping block. Also on the go-list were 11 melaleuca, 10 acacia saligna, and several acacia, pittosporum and callistemon.
“We will never see a bank of tees like it again in our area,” resident Gaye Guest said.
“Surely some could be cut to a level that they could re-sprout.
“Our river red gums are over 200 years old but our illustrious Premier and local ministers have not listened to resident concerns.
“They have historical significance!”
Ms Guest said the stump of a river red gum by the rail line had been preserved because Noble Park residents met under it in the 1900s before the Noble Park public hall was built and opened in 1923.
Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) said river red gums were not suitable for transplanting.
They’re making way for construction of the new rail line and Noble Park station, and for piling works for the bridge columns.
LXRA project director Brett Summers said that once the existing rail line was elevated “new trees will be replanted in the new community spaces created by the project and far less trees will be impacted or removed”.
“The project is exploring ways to reuse the trees, such as by donating the wood to local community groups or reusing the wood in the new community spaces created by the project, such as for mulch or landscaping,” he said.
“The project is also harvesting the seeds from the river red gums, to help to grow new trees that could be replanted in the community spaces that are created by the project.”
Councillor Peter Brown said LXRA had kept the council in the dark.
“We were told two weeks ago that they had arborists still doing assessments on the trees and hadn’t made a decision,” he said.
“There’s been no attempt made to save any of them.”
He said some residents had suggested that the council seek an injunction to halt the removal works.
“That would fail, unfortunately, because the whole area has been taken over by the State Government and taken out of council’s hands,” he said.
“The only action that council could take at this late notice would be to go to the Supreme Court.
“It would cost a lot of money and we would lose.”
Cr Brown said the established bank of river red gums “created a beautiful character along that part of Mons Parade”.
“By taking all these trees out … and putting up the sky rail without any trees to act as a visual buffer is going to turn it into an industrialised railway corridor visually.
“Will it look ugly? Yes, it most definitely will.”
Cr Brown said there was “only one bright thing here”.
“The EastLink overpass at Yarraman station has prevented the sky rail from going from Yarraman to Dandenong,” he said.
“They’ve had to work out how to design the sky rail.
“It’s effectively saved every tree in that area.”
Cr Matthew Kirwan said the Monday 25 July briefing Cr Brown referred to was “another stakeholder management exercise rather than stakeholder engagement exercise”.
“Our questions were either not answered at all or misleading answers were given,” he said.
“We were told a report was being compiled of all of the different trees and vegetation with the implication that this would be available before any trees were removed.
“We were certainly given no idea of how many trees would be removed.”