The Tasman District Council is celebrating a guilty verdict in a case against a rich-lister whose arborist illegally felled 110 trees in a reserve near Kaiteriteri.
After a three-day hearing this week, Judge Brian Dwyer found Arrowtown man Michael John Davies guilty of a charge under the Resource Management Act of employing an arborist who, on February 27 and 28 last year, cut down 110 trees next to his large holiday home at a reserve on Stephens Bay headland managed by the Tasman District Council.
Judge Dwyer dismissed another charge under the Reserves Act, saying it was unclear whether Davies had procured the arborist, or whether the arborist was a sub-contractor employed by Davies' landscaper.
The arborist, Simon Carney, pleaded guilty to a charge of contravening the Resource Management Act by cutting down the trees, and has had his sentence remanded until March 7, pending the outcome of a restorative justice process.
Landscaper Christopher Donald, of Great Southern Landscapes, pleaded not guilty to a charge of cutting down trees under the Reserves Act. His case was remanded until March 6.
Prosecutor Julian Ironside also withdrew a second Reserves Act charge against Davies relating to procuring Donald to cutting trees. Davies declined to comment following the hearing.
Regarding the RMA charge, Judge Dwyer said in his judgment it was clear that Davies had not taken all reasonable steps to prevent the tree-felling.
He referred to a meeting at the property on February 3 attended by Carney and Carney's wife, Tanya, Davies and his wife, Bridget, landscaper Lynley Bird, and Davies' builder.
During the meeting Davies failed to point out the boundaries of his land to landscaper Bird and Carney, despite it being clear from their discussion that they intended to remove trees that were in the reserve on Anarewa Point.
Due to inaction on Davies' part, it was inevitable that Bird and Carney would cut down trees on the reserve.
Judge Dwyer said he was unable to indentify any steps taken by Davies to prevent the tree-felling, when all he would have needed to do was point out his property boundaries.
It was incumbent on him as a property owner to advise her where his boundaries were, but instead he stayed silent.
Judge Dwyer referred to defence lawyer Nigel McFadden's opening statement in which he asked what other steps Davies could have taken.
"Regrettably Mr Davies did not undertake the first step of identifying the boundaries, ensuring they were adequately marked, and satisfying himself that those working on the property knew where they were."
On the Reserves Act charge, Judge Dwyer said although Davies paid Carney's costs, he had only met him once, at the property on February 3, and all communication between the two was done by Bird.
It was therefore unclear whether Davies had procured him, as a conviction under the Act would have required.
Judge Dwyer said he had considered amending the charges to reflect the nature of the relationship, but since it would require wholesale change it did not fall within his function.
TDC horticultural officer Kathy Tohill-Curnow, who was a witness for the council during the hearing, said afterwards that the verdict was a positive result for the community.
"I'm just sad that precious trees to us and to the community were cut down."
Some of the trees felled were the habitat for a rare species of mistletoe, and their removal had reduced their numbers, she said.
A fellow council witness, reserves manager Beryl Wilkes, said she was very pleased with the outcome.
Ironside said the case was brought because the council considered that not all reasonable steps had been take to avoid the vegetation clearance, and the court had clearly agreed.
He was not planning to bring any amended charges against Davies under the Reserves Act.
Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said he thanked the residents for their time and evidence, which had obviously played an important role.
"They, like the council, will be awaiting the court's decision regarding the sentencing."
"The dismay and outrage expressed by residents and visitors about the chopping down of the trees within the Stephens Bay reserve was compounded when it was obviously preventable by the landowner."
The council was considering the options for restoring Anarewa Point, he said.
- The Nelson Mail