Idle threat: Drysdale farmer forced to live with fire risk

January 21, 2021 BY

A local farmer says his livelihood is at risk after the banning of fire prevention works. Photos: NOEL OSBORNE

A DRYSDALE farmer is fighting for his land after fire prevention work was cancelled, putting his home in more danger than before.

Piles of debris from dead and stockpiled vegetation have been left on commercial farmer Noel Osborne’s property, leaving him frustrated and at risk of losing his home to a potential blaze.

“I am sitting here with everything I own behind a big stockpile of fuel,” he said.

Mr Osborne previously owned land in Colac and suffered a similar fate when a 2018 fire destroyed his home, with the pain of the experience forcing him to sell.

He said a fire at his property, which borders on the Bellarine Rail Trail, would be absolutely devastating for him and his business.

The trail is owned by VicTrack and leased by the Geelong Steam Preservation Society, who began works to clear and restore the area.

“Over a number of months last year, there was efforts made by the Preservation Society to reduce the amount of fuel on the reserve and clean it up,” Mr Osborne said.

“That has been stopped and at a stage where they had pushed all these dead trees into burn piles.

“I am left with a situation where I have big piles of dead trees right on my boundary line.”

It is claimed the works were unauthorised, resulting in the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) preventing any further disruption to the woodlands.

There have been previous exemptions from requiring a planning permit to remove vegetation that poses a hazard near railways, which DELWP have since amended as a result.

After the works were terminated, Mr Osbourne reached out to DELWP but was told he would not understand the complexity of the issue.

“There is just a total arrogance and a lack of willingness to talk and offer any sort of explanation or solution,” he said.

“If you don’t want them burned down. that’s fine, but they shouldn’t impose that on me.”

Liberal Member for Western Victoria Beverley McArthur raised DELWP’s obstruction of the Geelong Steam Preservation Society’s efforts in the upper house on December 8, and sought action from Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio.

Under Legislative Council law, a written response must be given from a minister within 30 days.

As of last week, no response had been provided, surpassing the 30-day limit.

A spokesperson from DELWP said the Geelong Steam Preservation Society submitted a plan to VicTrack in December for the removal of dead and stockpiled vegetation in the area.

On January 5, DELWP met with the City of Greater Geelong and VicTrack to review the plans.

“We’ve provided feedback to VicTrack on the Preservation Society’s plan for the treatment of dead and stockpiled native vegetation along the Railway,” the DELWP spokesperson said.

The plan is required to address rehabilitation of native vegetation and will ensure the protection of threatened species.”

According to the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1987, the plan must ensure  the endangered grassy woodland is protected or their removal is minimised.

The DELWP spokesperson said they were yet to receive notification of a revised plan. With no solutions or scheduled work to be completed in the area, Mr Osborne remains surrounded by stockpiles of dead vegetation.

“This is our home, this is our business, this is where we live, we look after it,” he said.

“We see it as someone putting us in danger for no real reason. We are trying to be good neighbours, we have offered the use of equipment … I just don’t understand it.”

Mr Osborne said he would not give up on ensuring the safety of his property.

“I am a commercial farmer. Whatever happens here, I either sink or swim; I don’t have another income,” he said.

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