Wodonga Council has agreed to pay private landholders $100,000 to offset the removal of trees from the site of the city’s new saleyards at Barnawartha North.
The decision to pay a third party for the use and management of their land was made as an alternative to the council planting trees on its own land at no cost.
At this month’s council meeting, Cr Anna Speedie said she thought the sum of $100,000 was too high and it was time such issues “were based on commonsense”.
Under Victorian legislation, the city is required to make the offset for those trees removed ahead of the construction of the new saleyards.
The law allows the council to use its own land for the offsets or pay a third party to plant the trees on their land.
A report to the council meeting said the like-for-like offset was required by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and the sum had been negotiated with the department.
The report made no mention of third-party landholders.
The department confirmed it was not the recipient of the money and The Border Mail put a series of questions to the council to establish how the price had been reached and with whom.
In a statement, a council spokesman said the price had been negotiated between the council and an undisclosed number of private landholders.
The council was not prepared to name the landowners involved.
“Unfortunately, in this situation, some vegetation removal is necessary and the council was unable to satisfy the offset criteria on its own land,” the spokesman said.
“The council has made significant commitments to protecting and enhancing local environmental values and makes every effort to avoid vegetation removal.”
Ten eucalyptus trees and native grasses will be removed to make way for the construction of turning lanes on the Murray Valley Highway for the new Northern Victoria Livestock Exchange.
A Department of Primary Industries spokesman said it hadn’t set the price on the credits, with the parties involved agreeing on the sum between themselves.
The offset sites are then registered through the department’s Bushbroker scheme.
A legal requirement of the scheme is that the site where the trees are planted be located within the council’s catchment area.
The Border Mail also asked the council where the site or sites were but it gave no response.
The offset cost and $99,000 in additional unspecified costs included in the report to council means the saleyards project has risen to more than $1 million.