MidCoast councillors have agreed to re-classify three conservation reserves from operational to community.
The reserves are located at Cattai Wetlands/Big Swamp, Smiths Lake and Tuncurry.
Members of the community were given the opportunity to comment on the proposal when the recommendation was placed on public exhibition for 28 day during September and October.
Although 23 submissions were received from the community, none of the issues raised were impacted by the reclassification, sustainability and natural assets co-ordinator, Tanya Cross reported to councillors.
While the majority of submissions (20) supported, or did not specifically object to the proposed reclassification, a number of issues surrounding the management of reserves at Smiths Lake were raised, Ms Cross said.
These issues included:
- Bushfire risk management;
- Stormwater management;
- Provision of walking and mountain bike tracks;
- Weed control;
- Funding for ongoing maintenance;
- Community involvement in management planning, and
- Rezoning the land to Environmental Conservation (C2).
"Three submissions objected to the reclassification of the reserves at Smiths Lake due to concerns that it would impose restrictions 'over the purpose, use and maintenance' of the reserve and would prevent council from adequately managing the bushfire risk on the land.
"One submission suggested reclassification be deferred until such time as management plans addressing bushfire risk, presence of weeds, recreational assets and bushfire management and stormwater infrastructure were in place."
Issues surrounding bushfire management, 'nature-focussed' recreational assets, fire trails and opportunities to improve stormwater management, were canvassed and described in the original report to council that authorised the purchase of the land, she said.
"Since that time, substantial work has been delivered by council staff and contractors to provide enhanced residential bushfire protection through the creation of Asset Protection Zones on the land as well as strategic bushfire hazard reduction, improved access for fire management through fire trail construction, weed control activities, and stormwater management planning for the reserve.
"A number of strategic planning and community engagement programs are currently underway to consider many of the issues raised in these submissions, which will culminate in a Plan of Management for the reserve to be undertaken in close consultation with the community.
You can't sell community land you can only sell operational land.- Paul De Szell
"Deferring reclassification pending the development of this management plan would be unreasonable."
One of the submissions included a request for mountain bike tracks within the 50.8 hectare community space at Smiths Lake.
"Mountain bike tracks can be developed in a nature that is sympathetic to the environment and will not have significant detrimental impact.
"The community will greatly benefit from increased recreational facility for youth and adult residents and tourists."
According to another resident, the land was acquired by MidCoast Council in 2020 for the purposes of nature conservation as an ecological offset for improved bushfire management for the Smiths Lake community.
"I have not seen any improvement in bushfire management; if anything trails have been blocked off and more trees planted inhibiting public access and increasing bushfire danger."
Liveable communities director, Paul De Szell told councillors the only real impact of the decision would be council's inability to sell the land.
"You can't sell community land, you can only sell operational land," Mr De Szell said.
"The current uses on that land can continue; there is no change to those uses at all.
"(And), It can be managed for bushfire purposes."
He said the change would 'better' protect the land.
"Each of the three pieces of land function very differently within each of the different communities."