Lines company battle continues

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 15:35 05/12/2013

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Marlborough Lines may continue its 14 year-long unsuccessful fight to get more control over a Bay of Plenty lines company by taking an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Legal action by Marlborough Lines through various courts is believed to cost the community-owned company millions of dollars, although that is disputed by chairman David Dew.

It is likely to cause debate at tomorrow's annual meeting of the Marlborough Electric Power Trust, the 100 per cent owner of Marlborough Lines on behalf of the power customers in Marlborough.

This month the Court of Appeal ruled against the iwi Ngati Rangitihi in its battle with the Eastern Bays Energy Trust, which owns 77 per cent of lines company Horizons Energy. Marlborough Lines owns 13 per cent of Horizons, and funded Ngati Rangitihi to challenge the trust's ownership in the hope of being able to buy more Horizon shares.

Marlborough Lines tried to take over Horizons in 1999, but was unsuccessful. It did successfully buy the Otago lines company and half of Nelson Electricity.

The Whakatane electricity trust was reported as saying its legal costs were $1.3m before the Court of Appeal case was heard. Marlborough Lines chairman David Dew said Marlborough Lines would abide by its agreement with Ngati Rangitihi, but he declined to say exactly what that agreement was. When asked if that meant Marlborough Lines would pay the iwi's legal costs, as well as the costs awarded by the Court of Appeal to Eastern Bays Energy Trust, he said only that Marlborough Lines would do what it had agreed to do with them.

Mr Dew said it was too early to comment on the Court of Appeal ruling as his board had not yet discussed it. The board's options included making an appeal to the Supreme Court, or selling the company's Horizon shares to Eastern Bays Energy Trust.

"The reality of it is that it's too early to comment on it. We've got to review it, and decide in the new year where to go from here.

"Every possibility is open for discussion and examination. Nothing's open, nothing's closed. We haven't addressed it."

The Ministry of Justice website says there is a deadline 20 working days after the date of the Court of Appeal judgment on making an appeal to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal the case to that court. Appeal rights are not automatic. This means Ngati Rangitihi and Marlborough Lines would have to apply by December 12.

Mr Dew defended taking the legal action, and the expense, saying it was because of its expansion activities and the returns from the other companies Marlborough Lines owned that it was able to pay the dividends distributed to power users in Marlborough each year.

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Residents get about $50 a year returned to them as dividends.

"If we were quiet and did nothing, you wouldn't be getting them."

The high legal costs involved in the Horizons case were "the costs of doing business - that's the reality of it", he said.

The Marlborough Lines board was meeting before Christmas and again in February, but there was no urgency for it to make any decisions, Mr Dew said.

■ The Marlborough Electricity Power Trust AGM is at 10am at the St Johns rooms in Seymour St. 

- The Marlborough Express

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