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Environmental VANDALISM

Think Local

Awar of words has erupted between residents of sleepy Jeers Reserve, a tranquil, overgrown patch of green bushland fronting Middle Harbour and Mosman Council, with both claiming destructive environmental vandalism is damaging the area.

   The area is home to native birds and animals and treasured by its neighbours, but over the past few months it's been the scene of a heated, abusive debate which has pitted locals against the bureaucrats of the local government area.

  At the core of the resident uprising has been an alleged series of tree vandalism incidents and the subsequent erection by council of a massive $17,000 engineered steel sign structure, eight metres tall with a banner of five metres by three metres.

   The sign lowers over rooftops and the tree line and can be seen by residents within a wide radius of the park.

   Although it has been an established practice for anti-vandalism signs to be erected in areas where tree killing has occurred, residents say it has never been seen on this scale and magnitude before.

   The dispute has escalated in the past few weeks, with more than 100 angry residents flooding a recent Mosman Council demanding the sign be taken down.

Spokesperson Toni Campbell, who lives nearby, says residents dispute the council's number of alleged incidents of tree poisoning and ring barking and have, "absolutely no idea" who is responsible for the vandalism.

    "The sign that has been erected is an environmental monstrosity," she claims. "It's offensive to all Mosman residents and is excessively punitive to the community as a whole.

    "The sign is larger than any trees in the area, a complete waste of ratepayers' money and vastly exaggerates the penalties that apply for tree vandalism."

     Residents claim it is not only the loss of trees that upsets them but what the council has done in response also equates to vandalism of the area.

"We are appalled at the size and nature of this sign," she laments. "We have residents who have lived in this area for the past 70 years and no one was consulted about the sign before it went up."

    Speaking at the council meeting to discuss the issue, Milsons Point urban design consultant, Belinda Barnett, says her investigation shows the council's response by erecting the giant sign in Joel's Reserve has been a complete "over-reaction".

   "Mosman Council does not have a holistic tree vandalism policy and there is absolutely no precedent for the council to be taking such dramatic action," she says.

However, Kate Eccles, president of Mosman Parks and Bushland Association, says the organisation supports the move to erect the sign, saying, "We want the council to hold the line with this sign - the illegal acts remain and similar moves are happening with other councils across the state."

   In an attempt to offer some conciliation, Mosman Mayor, Peter Abelson, has now agreed to remove the sign after 12 months - and not five years, as previously decided with council staff.

  "I really don't want to divide the community," he says. "But this is subject to there being no further acts of vandalism and council officers will prepare reports on the on-going management of the reserve."

   Residents are savouring what has become a very small victory in the fight for council to remove the sign, which they claim has impacted on their enjoyment of their homes and everyone's enjoyment of the public land it now dominates.

   As one resident comments, "We have been treated as criminals and council workers have misled people. This sign was always designed to offend when we have always made a massive effort to co-operate."

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