By KIERAN FINNANE
Following public outcry, the butchering of Alice Springs’ street trees is now hopefully a thing of the past.
The Town Council last night heard from Luke Stapleton, Vegetation Maintenance Coordinator for PowerWater Corporation (PWC).
They’re lifting their game, following “feedback” not only from the community but the Australian Energy Regulator.
While PWC has a legal obligation to maintain power line clearances, they are now adopting “a risk-based approach” and moving to “minimum clearances” – as opposed to the one size fits all (“generic clearances”) we’ve witnessed in recent years.
Both the frequency of trimming and clearance criteria will be changed.
They have engaged an Indigenous-owned company with a qualified arborist to look at the whole network – of trees in relation to power assets.
The arborist will advise on the best cutting techniques to maintain clearances (taking into account species and growth rates) and to reshape the trees.
PWC is empowered to remove any tree that they deem a risk but henceforth when trees are unsafe or unsuitable to be under power lines they will talk to council about possible removal and replacement. (Mr Stapleton was advised last night that council has a two for one replacement policy, though the replacements don’t necessarily have to be in the same location.)
Exceptions may apply in relation to trees of significance to Indigenous people or that have historic interest. Conversely, if a customer has a problem with a specific tree, PWC will individually assess the situation.
A data collection system will allow their staff to “audit every trim” and record their dealings with customers.
“We really want to do a better job,” said Mr Stapleton, emphasising their plans to “engage with key stakeholders” and especially council.
In response, councillors were appreciative of the changed approach while noting the lamentable record in the past.
Cr Jimmy Cocking emphasised the value of mature trees for their amenity and heat mitigating effect.
Mr Stapleton assured him that tree removal would be “very rare”.
Director of Technical Services Scott Allen described PWC’s previous performance as “atrocious”.
He complained of council being left “holding the ball” and to “pick up the pieces”. (Mayor Damien Ryan said council had “taken a shellacking over last round” of tree-trimming.)
Mr Allen said it was good to see PWC adopting a “different approach” but “actions will speak louder than words”.
He seemed to challenge PWC’s good faith with his dubious closing comment, that an improved regime “hasn’t happened for the 13 years I’ve been at council”.
Photos from our archive.