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Maclean Landcare coordinator Wendy Plater on site with some of the felled trees. Images: Geoff Helisma

Mystery surrounds alleged illegal clearing

Geoff Helisma |

After around a decade of caring for the bushland on the northern escarpment below the Maclean lookout, Maclean Landcare’s coordinator Wendy Plater says she is “devastated” by the alleged illegal clearing on the Islay Street Crown road reserve and nearby privately owned land.

Over recent weeks, the Independent has made several enquiries with Clarence Valley Council (CVC) and the Office of Environment and Heritage regarding the allegations.

The land is zoned E3 Environmental Management, the object of which is “to protect, manage and restore areas with special ecological, scientific, cultural or aesthetic values”, the 2011 Clarence Valley Local Environment Plan states.

Houses are acceptable development in the E3 zone, provided the lot is 100 hectares or larger and the development does not “have an adverse effect on [the above] values”.

The E3 zone also aims “to protect prominent hillsides, ridgelines, other major natural features, riparian areas and water catchment areas”.
When asked about the alleged illegal clearing on both the Crown road reserve and privately owned land, CVC advised that “questions about activities on Crown road reserves should be directed to the Crown; this is not a council issue”.

On the privately owned land, CVC indicated there was confusion regarding which agency – CVC or the National Parks & Wildlife Service – was responsible for investigating the allegation, under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

The Independent lodged an enquiry with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, asking for clarification and an indication of what action (if any) it might take or is taking.

A spokesperson said: “We’re aware of the situation and are in the early stages of an investigation.”
An answer to a subsequent enquiry directed to the Department of Industry – Lands and Water acknowledged that it is “investigating unauthorised clearing and earthworks on a Crown public road at Maclean”.
“Until that investigation is complete it’s not possible to comment on any potential actions,” a statement said.
“The department is liaising with the Office of Environment and Heritage in relation to the matter.”
The Department of Industry placed an advertisement in a Clarence Valley publication (not the Independent) on June 16, stating its intention to sell the Crown road reserves – Hoschkes Lane and Islay Street – in reaction to an application made to close them: submissions closed on July 14.

In October of 2009, the NSW Environmental Trust provided $98,000 towards preserving the biodiversity of the bushland surrounding the Maclean lookout, including the land in question, which was implemented by Maclean Landcare volunteers.

The Islay Street Crown road reserve as it was on June 28