Protesters say the felling of 23 pohutukawa trees on the Waitara riverbank has left the township looking out on to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
Contractors rolled in with heavy machinery and chainsaws at about 8am while Taranaki Regional Council staff patrolled the riverbank and cruised the river in a boat.
The council said the trees had to go because they could weaken the town's new $3 million flood protection scheme.
Abby Jury is a member of the Save the Waitara Pohutukawa group which has lobbied for more than a year to have the trees spared.
She said she rushed to the riverbank when she heard the contractors had arrived.
"I saw an email come through at about 8 o'clock saying I can hear chainsaws, so I jumped in my car and came down and, yes, the chainsaws were here and the digger just smashing down the trees.
"Most are gone now. It only takes two and half hours to fell 60 years of growth, 23 big trees."
Ms Jury objected to council staff being out in force along the river back.
"They had the TRC staff out here doing security in force, stationed at both ends and also on the river.
"However, most of us are a bit old to climb trees now and it's a bit chilly."
Ms Jury said during the consultation period the council had only listened to advice that supported cutting down the trees and had left the town with an eyesore.
"Here's Waitara now with a concrete security wall that looks like it's a prison topped by barbed wire fencing and that's meant to replace the trees.
"That's not a great legacy from the TRC and those that let this happen."
That wall is the flood wall along the river.
Stephen Hall, from the regional council, said it had the best interests of Waitara at heart and was building a flood protection scheme designed for a one-in-100-year flood.
"The flood scheme needs to withstand significant forces during floods and the council has identified a section of 23 pohutukawa trees that weaken the resilience of the flood protection works."
Mr Hall said Waitara flooded badly in the 60s and 70s and most of the locals were happy to see the work go ahead.
"The council is aware of the views of a relatively small group of people who have objected to elements of the upgrade, particularly the removal of any of the trees along the riverbank.
"But the council has consulted extensively with the Waitara community, adjacent land occupiers and owners, and other affected parties since planning began in 2010."
Mr Hall said the security on site was necessary because of the nature of the job.
"Tree felling is a very hazardous activity and the work site was secured to ensure the safety of the contractors and the public."
The flood protection scheme does have its supporters.
Waitara resident Wendy Moratti, who was out walking with her bowls mates, thought it was alright although it looked a bit stark at the moment.
"I'm 50-50. I don't like to see them go, but I think they probably have to with the floods that we've had although we haven't had one for a while.
"As long as they do it up nice and have it looking good, put something back."
The final stage of the flood protection scheme, the raising of stopbank levels on the eastern bank of the river, is programmed for next summer.
When complete, more than 100 pohutukawa will remain along 800 metres of the riverbank.
But that did not console Ms Jury, who will not be forgiving the regional council any time soon for removing the trees.
"I just think it is shameful, absolutely shameful."