Tall trees in the State Forest near Urbenville. PIC: SUSANNA FREYMARK
Tall trees in the State Forest near Urbenville. PIC: SUSANNA FREYMARK

Forestry Commission sale could see councils foot roads bill

IF KYOGLE and Richmond Valley Councils are forced to foot the bill for forestry roads when the Forestry Commission is sold, the cost could blow out their budgets.

Twenty-six rural and regional councils will be affected if the state government's sale goes ahead.

The roads, which are six times the distance from Sydney to Perth, could soon become the financial burden of rural councils, if the road construction, maintenance, repair and upgrades obligations are transferred.

Recent Budget Estimates hearings revealed a combined 24,197kms of roads currently owned and maintained by Forestry Corporation's softwood plantations division.

Northern Rivers LGAs affected included Clarence Valley with 132.3km, Kyogle with 388.4km and Richmond Valley with 761.8km.

Kyogle Council's general manager Graham Kennett was not aware of any proposal for council to take over roads within State Forests.

"Any change of this nature would require considerable legislative amendments, and the hypothetical situation outlined by the shadow ministers has not identified any proposals for these changes to be made," Mr Kennett said.

"That aside, the council has serious concerns about the impact of the state government's forestry operations on the local road network that it is already responsible for."

More than 30% of Kyogle Local Government Area is taken up by State Forests and National Parks, none of which is rateable, Mr Kennett said.

"We have been lobbying for a change to the rating system, or a system of heavy haulage contributions, that would see State Forests paying their fair share of the cost associated with maintaining access to these areas," he said.

Forestry Corporation's softwood division will spend an estimated $17.5 million on road construction, repair, maintenance and upgrades in 2019-20, on top of the more than $100 million spent in the last eight years.

Labor's shadow minister for Natural Resources, Paul Scully said he was worried the government would secretly shift the costs of Forestry Corporation roads on to the books of local councils.

Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland said she'd rather see the fuel loads in neglected State Forests and National Parks addressed, with suitable funding provided to Councils to upkeep soft and hard infrastructure in these areas.

"Rural councils can't afford to take on this kind of financial burden," she said.

"I'd be interested in seeing the government invest in jobs and infrastructure in these areas but we can't afford any more cost shifting."

Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin said it weas criminal that National Party John Barilaro was leading the charge to flog off the NSW Forest Estate.

"The NSW Forest Estate roads must be maintained as public roads and the state government must guarantee that they will maintain them," Ms Saffin said.

"This government keeps passing on costs to strapped cash local governments, which means passing on costs, to us, local communities."

Forestry Corporation employs 516 workers across NSW, produces around 25 per cent of timber used in housing construction annually and manages two million hectares of the state's forest estate.

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