The ABC is reporting that ‘fire-affected communities in eastern Victoria are calling for a permanent firebreak running 170 kilometres along both sides of the Princes Highway to the New South Wales border’.

The Princes highway was closed for almost six weeks in Gippsland from late December until February, during the summer bushfires and clean-up, cutting road access into a number of small towns.

According to a report on the ABC, “It was a mammoth impact on Orbost, Cann River, Bemm River. Everyone is impacted when the highway is closed,” said Orbost Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary Garry Squires.

The chamber has submitted a proposal to government agencies calling for a 30-metre clearance along some sections of the highway between Nowa Nowa and NSW.

The call is being led by a former logging industry boss who was involved in a conflict of interest when he oversaw the clearing of a fire break in East Gippsland during the 2003 fires.

Local Federal Nationals MP Darren Chester agreed with the proposal, saying many sections of roadside verges had already been cleared of burnt trees but that would need to be maintained.

“We need a resilient transport corridor because every time the road closes, people lose their jobs and become disconnected from their communities.”

However, environmentalists expressed concern: “Especially 30 metres, that is over zealous,” Goongerah Environment Centre campaigner Chris Schuringa said.

“Given that 1.6 million hectares has already been burnt in East Gippsland, roadside habitat is really important and I think for communities that rely on people visiting the region, it’s really important that the area’s natural values are kept.

The Victorian government has been criticised for allowing widespread roadside clearing in East Gippsland after the fires without adequate assessment of the environmental impacts of the clearing or proper supervision of contractors who did the clearing. There were also concerns expressed hat the tree removal was ‘logging by stealth’ that created an economic imperative to clear healthy trees. This triggered a state government investigation which has not yet released a finding.

The firebreak would need Victorian Government approval.

IMAGE: Princes Hwy near Genoa, Credit: Nick Clemann, from the GECO facebook page.