4 February 2022

Belconnen storm clean up and recovery efforts to take months yet

| Lottie Twyford
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Storm clean up

Significant clean-up efforts are now underway in Belconnen, and they are likely to continue for many months. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

A major post-storm clean-up operation in the Belconnen area will be underway for months yet as the scale of the damage begins to be understood by authorities.

The severe storm, which tore through the area on Monday, 3 January, knocked out the power of 15,000 households and left fallen trees, flooding and damaged power lines in its wake.

Just over a month later, local residents are still dealing with debris – mostly from trees – as authorities turn their attention to fallen trees and branches on public land in busy areas such as shopping centres and near schools.

Before that, hazards had been the focus and crews cleared branches off driveways, roads and paths. Nature strips, playgrounds, sports grounds and parks are the last priority.

As crews settle in for the long haul, Transport Canberra and City Services’ tree crews have had their ranks bolstered with the addition of 20 members of the ACT Parks and Conservation Services, while the ESA and the SES are managing recovery efforts.

It’s hoped the additional resources will assist in speeding up recovery efforts.

Deputy Chief Minister and Member for Ginninderra Yvette Berry said people will soon see signage indicating storm clean-up is underway.

“A lot [of the clean-up work] is still being identified. We know generally where all the debris is laying, but we encourage anyone who sees fallen trees or damaged powerlines to let the appropriate authorities know using the Fix My Street app,” Ms Berry said.

“This will help us to get a really good idea of where the damage is.”

Already, more than 2000 requests for help have been logged through the platform.

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Ms Berry said she and the clean-up crews appreciated the help of the community in getting the work started but urged people to leave any remaining jobs for the professionals due to safety concerns.

“Under normal circumstances, we probably wouldn’t encourage too much of that behaviour, but given the storm event, it’s been a really great community effort with everybody chipping in,” she said.

“That’s what Canberrans do in a crisis like this … we support one another.”

Despite the continued wet weather forecast for the coming weeks and months, Ms Berry said all emergency services agencies have the capacity to deal with any other storm events that may crop up.

“When it comes to safety, that will take first priority and then the clean-up and recovery comes after that, but we have an excellent team of volunteers through the ESA and the SES as well as the RFS and generally people in the community wanting to support as well,” she said.

Gum tree in front of house

Fallen eucalypts and branches were a common sight after the January storm ripped through Belconnen. Photo: Jess Tankard.

And while some Belconnen residents have said the extent of the damage from fallen trees and branches are proof eucalypts do not belong in the suburbs, the executive branch manager of city presentation at Transport Canberra and City Services, Stephen Alegria, said it’s more of a case of Belconnen being home to lots of eucalypts.

He said any trees in the path of a storm can be damaged.

“When there’s a particularly severe storm like there was in January, clearly, many trees are going to be affected because of the strong winds and also the very moist ground conditions which make it harder for the trees to hold on.”

“Eucalypt trees are not any more susceptible to storm damage than any other tree,” Mr Alegria explained.

Treeworks arborist Steve Griffiths told Region Media that one of the main reasons behind eucalypt failure is a lack of drainage due to the build-up of urban infrastructure in the suburbs.

Eucalypts make up around 60 per cent of the ACT’s tree canopy.

“In our planting program for the urban forest, we look to do a diversity of trees – both eucalypts, native species and exotic species. It all depends on the circumstances and the local conditions,” Mr Alegria said, “but we know that eucalypts play a very important role in the urban area and will continue to do so in the future.”

For more information on the ongoing storm recovery, visit City Services.

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“Eucalypt trees are not any more susceptible to storm damage than any other tree,” Mr Alegria explained.”
That statement is simply wrong and defies reality.
In our suburb we have a mixture of mature Eucalypts and mature non-Eucalypt street trees. During the recent storm it was only the Eucalypts that were up-rooted and blown over, blocking roads and driveways and littering the streets with large fallen branches.
If in the same area, with the same soil, same water and same weather conditions it is just the Eucalypts that fall and cause major damage, that proves they are more susceptible to storm damage. So a reasonable person should conclude that Eucalypt tress are more dangerous and inappropriate for suburban streets.
Suburbs in Belconnen and Gungalin were worse affected because they had more gum trees and will again be hit in the future when another intense storm strikes.
Non-Eucalptus trees like Oaks (Quercus palustris/robur), Ashes (Fraxinus oxycarpa), Cherry (Prunus cerasifera), Elms (Ulmus parviflora), Liquidambers (L. styraciflua), Manchurian Pears (Pyrus Ussuriensis) etc have all proven to grow well in Canberra, are far more robust and (subjectively) more beautiful with their spring flowers and spectacular autumn colours.
Residents should demand more of these trees. Keep the big Eucalypt species in the bush where they belong and look better.
Anyone wanting ideas for beautiful street trees in their drab, colourless, damage prone, Eucalyptus dominated suburb should read the excellent book, ‘Street Trees in Canberra’ by AH Edwards.
I suspect those who are most keen on Eucalypts are those who get very well paid by the ACT government on a contract basis to regularly clean up the damage that gum trees cause.

Why does it appear that all who oppose the eucalypts pretend only certain tall ones exist?
Why are eucalypts treated in isolation rather than in terms of the environmental web of life?
Bush capital or imitation English formal garden?

Capital Retro9:55 am 05 Feb 22

Let’s not forget the beautiful native flowering Grevillea Robusta tree. It has good shape, size and it isn’t prone to storm damage.

Yes indeed, there is a range of species and variants. The G. Robusta also is bred in different sizes for different situations.

Capital Retro5:11 pm 05 Feb 22

They would have looked good along the Northbourne Avenue trolley folly corridor.

“Eucalypt trees are not any more susceptible to storm damage than any other tree,” Mr Alegria explained.

Mr Alegria said, “but we know that eucalypts play a very important role in the urban area and will continue to do so in the future.”

Is he implying that after the cleanup, they’ll just plant more gum trees?

I hope so. Smaller and mallee types can be selected. They flower. Support your native birds.

The vast number of people who have commented on these articles, have been people opposed to gums, in the suburbs. Many have suffered financial loss as a result of a fallen limb or having roots in their storm water. I have suffered both of these plus I’ve witnessed one of my school teachers being killed by a falling limb. I won’t describe the details. It wasn’t nice.
So yes, trees that support bird life are nice, but don’t expect universal acceptance of replanting this area.

I am sorry to hear of your experience, to which you have alluded before.
The vote run by Riotact strongly supported eucalypts in the ‘burbs, more than I expected, which is supported by some comments which used large scale evidence rather than personal views. What you might call quality over quantity.
My slightly flippant comment about birds has a serious undertone. One cannot think the environment important only while it does not impinge on you, or you wind up with none.

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