RESIDENTS of a Eurobodalla coastal village want an historic firebreak restored between homes and surrounding national park.
Reflecting a shire-wide tension between preserving the Nature Coast’s bush land and safeguarding communities, Potato Point residents have formed an action group to pressure both Eurobodalla Shire Council and the NSW Government.
Potato Point Community Association fears lives and properties could be lost if several hundred metres of grassland is not restored as a buffer.
Members Ross Babbage, Rob Pollock and Annmaree O’Keeffe say the village was surrounded by grassland until the late 1980s.
“However, since the declaration of the Eurobodalla National Park in 1995, very little work has been undertaken to preserve the firebreak,” they said in a group statement.
“Thick forest and scrub has taken over the firebreak and now reaches the back fences of some properties.
“The Eurobodalla Bush Fire Risk Management Plan 2010 says the fire risk to Potato Point is high. If Potato Point faced a major bushfire this year, similar to that which threatened the village in 1985, many properties and some lives could be lost.
“While wanting to preserve the integrity and beauty of the Eurobodalla National Park, the community and local Rural Fire Service have pressed the National Parks and Wildlife Service to restore and maintain a buffer zone for over a decade, with little success.”
The group said it was not seeking to clear fell a break.
“The community is not wanting the firebreak stripped bare,” they said.
“Instead, it is asking that the undergrowth and dead fuel be cleared and the tree cover thinned to establish a park-like firebreak that would be practical for fire fighters to defend on the approach of a major fire.”
Mr Pollock, a Potato Point resident since the early 1980s and a Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer since 2000, said he had been pushing to restore the firebreak for eight years.
“In 1985 we had a major crown fire which raced through the top of trees and it lost its momentum when it hit the grass,” he said.
“We now have a continual fuel load right into and surrounding the village.”
Mr Babbage said residents enjoyed the park and it was part of why many people lived there.
However, he said the village had many elderly and infirm residents whose safety he now feared for.
Yesterday, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) spokeswoman Lucy Morrell said bushfire management committees were designed to give all stakeholders a say.
“Fires do not recognise boundaries, so NPWS works closely with the RFS, Fire and Rescue NSW, State Forests and Sydney Catchment Authority and neighbours of national parks to reduce fire risk across the state’s national parks,” she said.
“These agencies and groups work together through local bushfire management committees across NSW and these committees give local communities a say in local fire management plans.”
However, Mr Pollock said that process had not worked.
“I was on the bushfire management committee and you could tell they all agreed, with the exception of certain personalities within National Parks who are distinctly obstructive,” he said.
RFS customer service and support manager for Southern NSW, Jeff Lucas, said he did not believe there was a major push for wider buffer zones across the shire.
“From my understanding through the risk planning, I would not say it is rife across the shire,” he said.
“There are issues day-to-day but I am not seeing that as a common issue. I don’t see that in the work we are doing, with risk management plans.”
Based in Batemans Bay, Mr Lucas said bushfire risk management plans set out risks around the shire and the various treatments.
“Our main message is for people to look at a suite of responses to a threat,” he said.
The Potato Point group said an RFS request, on behalf of the community, that NSW Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robyn Parker, restore a 200-metre firebreak was rejected early this year.
The group has invited Ms Parker and Bega MP Andrew Constance to visit.
“It is time for the government to take the protection of Potato Point seriously,” they said.