By LEE McDOUGALL
'A REAL tragedy' is how Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Steve Sawtell has described the death of Harbour Drive's ficus trees.
Late yesterday, the council released the latest findings on the state of the trees, which has implicated the council in their death.
Investigations have revealed that the ficus trees were irrevocably damaged by the use on surrounding pavers of a weed-killing product that can harm tree roots.
As a result, the council has initiated a comprehensive review of procedures relating to its use of chemicals.
"I bought in an independent authority, a forensic scientist of the horticultural world, who took over the investigation once we realised that we may have been implicated," Mr Sawtell said.
"We are only halfway through the investigation, but we released this information as soon as we discovered it."
Mr Sawtell said that over a period of nine weeks the council had carried out testing of soils, pH and acidity to determine the cause of the defoliation, but without result.
"Earlier this month, further sampling was undertaken to search for the presence of herbicides," he said.
"In those tests, residues of picloram and triclopyr, chemicals common to herbicides, were discovered in soil and leaf samples from two trees."
Mr Sawtell said the damage to the trees was irreversible, and that the trees would be removed as soon as possible.
Replacement trees were being examined, although Mr Sawtell said the success of the redeveloped city centre was due in large part to the aesthetics of the streetscape, with the ficus trees playing a major role.
"They will be replaced. We are considering the suitability of a number of different species in order to maintain the aesthetic values which are so important to the city centre," Mr Sawtell said.