End of an icon: Tree loppers work to cut down the old fig tree in Alstonville the Ballina Shire Council says was posing an unacceptable risk to public safety.
End of an icon: Tree loppers work to cut down the old fig tree in Alstonville the Ballina Shire Council says was posing an unacceptable risk to public safety. Jay Cronan

Giant fig tree gets the chop

A GIANT fig tree at Alstonville is being cut down bec-ause it poses an ‘immediate risk to public safety'.

The tree – estimated to be at least 70 years old – is completely split in half.

With strong winds predicted for the rest of this week, Ballina Shire Council's manager of open spaces and reserves, Jillian Pratten, said there was a very real possibility the tree could collapse.

“We had no choice but to cut it down,” she said.

“It's cracked from one side to the other because the trunk has rotted and there was damage from strong winds, we think from a storm in February.

“We've been protecting this tree for years. Cutting it down really is a last resort.”

However, the timing of the work has been questioned by parents and staff at the Alstonville Dance Studio, which is right next to the fig tree, just off the highway.

One of the parents, Sandra Edwards, said the work was ‘dangerously close' to the studio, where children were participating in winter workshops.

“The kids have to ask the council workers for permission to go to the toilet,” she said. “This whole thing is not a safety issue – it's a financial issue.

“The council is just doing this as quickly as possible to save money.

“What they should be doing is stopping work once the kids start getting here.”

Ms Edwards also said the children could not hear the music during rehearsals, and that she was concerned about the ‘swinging crane' which carried large branches.

Owner of the studio, Sue Whiteman, had been overseas this week and was told by the council via email that they needed urgent accessto her property in order to remove the fig tree.

Ms Pratten said the council had tried to work with the dance studio to address their concerns.

“We've taken the chipper off-site,” she said.

“We're also not working on Thursday because they have a concert on.”

However, Ms Pratten said the work could not wait any longer because the tree was deteriorating at a rapid rate.

“We discovered the split last week when we went to prune some of the branches,” she said.

“Since then it's come apart even more.

“We looked at doing cabling and bracing – you can do that on some trees to hold them together.

“But this is such a big split and just can't do that.”

Ms Pratten said it was hoped the tree would be completely removed by tomorrow afternoon.



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