AN INVESTIGATION into VicRoads culling about 900 trees along the Western Highway has confirmed the authority’s methods were inaccurate.
The VicRoads investigation found the authority misjudged the amount of native flora it had to remove for the Western Highway duplication between Beaufort and Ararat.
VicRoads acting regional director Nicki Kyriakou said the investigation revealed the methodology used to estimate the number of trees was not accurate for the Beaufort to Ararat section.
She said initial plans estimated 221 large old trees would be lost when VicRoads widened the 41-kilometre highway corridor between Beaufort and Ararat. This was included in an environmental effects statement completed to gain project approval.
However, 885 trees were cut. The authority said the discrepancy was because the environmental effects statement did not count scattered trees that were not beside the road.
The move sparked a groundswell of community outrage leading to heated protests earlier this year. One included 91-year-old Isabel McKenzie chaining herself to a tree next to the highway.
Ms Kyriakou said vegetation and scattered trees were assessed according to the Native Vegetation Framework, but the figures were unintentionally misleading.
“I’m sorry that this happened and I am also concerned we unintentionally mislead the local community,” Ms Kyriakou said.
She said VicRoads would work with the community to improve public consultation.
Many of the trees were classified as having very high conservation significance. Their removal will shave two minutes off the travel time between Ararat and Beaufort and make the rural highway safer.
“Through innovative design improvements, we have reduced the number of trees to be removed and we will plant more than 200,000 trees and shrubs and spend more than an $4 million on landscaping,” Ms Kyriako said.