IT’S simply not worth the risk, they say.
For the one-off burst of income, estimated at $8 million, that will flow from cutting down 112 hectares of trees on the outskirts of Mirboo North, the town and the shire stands to suffer a huge hit to tourism, jobs and the economy on an on-going basis – well in excess of that amount.
That, in a nutshell, was the gist of a public presentation to the South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday by members of the Mirboo North business community and the Preserve Our Forests group ahead of an important decision by the council later this month.
By way of informing itself of the issues involved, before voting on a Notice of Motion, moved by Crs Hill and McEwen, at its March 28 meeting, to the effect that it step-up its opposition to the VicForest logging proposal, council heard from local community representatives, and also State Government departments.
Vicki Sinclair, deputy chair of the local Preserve Our Forests group, was the first to respond to a presentation by VicForests and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
She said the timber industry was a relatively minor contributor to the economy of the area, while the forest setting which surrounded Mirboo North was arguably the town’s greatest asset, helping to attract visitors and ultimately new residents to the town.
“At present we are surveying business about the impact on tourism and also on their businesses if the forest was cut down and we expect that to be completed in mid-April,” Ms Sinclair said.
“All the publicity of the town describes it as being ‘nestled in the forest’ and that’s what people love about the place when they come here. It’s either our greatest asset of close to,” she said.
Ms Sinclair said an assessment of the shire’s economy in 2012 said agriculture was worth $2685 million per annum, tourism $30 million and timber $11 million.
Her concerns about the impact of the loss of the trees on the economy, jobs and tourism was echoed by Eric Walters, operator of the Mirboo North Brewery. He said the brewery, in line to be the second-biggest Australian owned brewery, had put expansion plans on hold and would also consider relocating its manufacturing base if the removal of the trees impacted the town’s pristine water supply.
“That’s why we chose Mirboo North in the first place,” he said.
“If the water quality is affected by this, the town would lose a $16 million business, and 36 jobs, and that’s just us, all for a one-off $8 million. Calculate the impact of tourism on top of that and it simply makes no sense.
“I’m flabbergasted that the impact on tourism and the economy isn’t taken into account.”
VicForests’ spokesperson Nora Devoe, assured the council that “in this calendar year there will certainly be no activity” but while she said no decisions had been taken, the identified resource at Mirboo North was considered “suitable and available” to cover the commitments made to timber processors.