Trespass notice eyed as option to fight farmer
The Government had considered issuing a trespass notice on a Federated Farmers national board member after a car park and signs in the Rangitata Gorge were removed.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) spent $11,150 in 2009 building a public car park and erecting signs outlining the 12-kilometre route to the Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park, near Lake Tekapo.
The legality of the car park is disputed by Federated Farmers national vice-president Donald Aubrey, who runs 7000 merino sheep on the 13,600ha Ben McLeod Station.
DOC and Land Information New Zealand (Linz) maintain that the car park area is Crown land under the Conservation Act. However, Aubrey has legal advice that it falls within his Crown pastoral lease.
On Boxing Day, DOC was informed that gravel from the car park had been removed and dumped elsewhere. DOC signs had been removed and replaced with a sign saying: "Ben McLeod Station private property".
Five months on, the car park area remains barren and the signs have not been returned.
According to emails and letters released to The Press under the Official Information Act, Canterbury Conservator Mike Cuddihy in January protested to Commissioner of Crown Lands David Gullen, who oversees Crown pastoral lease land, such as Ben McLeod Station.
In a January 25 email, Gullen told DOC managers it appeared Aubrey had acted illegally under the Land Act.
"I think we are past the point where DOC communication with the leaseholder will resolve matters," he said.
"I think I should write to the leaseholder now with a trespass notice, and informing the police of my action which is the norm if I wish to pursue a legal remedy in the future."
On April 12, Gullen wrote to Aubrey seeking a meeting to resolve the issue but backed off issuing a trespass notice.
Aubrey told The Press yesterday he had removed the car park and the signs were in storage.
"The department has made a mistake," he said. "I have instructed my lawyer to write to the commissioner in response to last month's letter and that letter will reconfirm the boundaries of the pastoral lease, according to the files that we've reviewed which go back many, many years."
Aubrey said the area was an inappropriate entrance to the park, considering the distance the public had to walk through his property.
"This from my perspective appeared to be a precedent-setting [decision]."
There had been "quite severe" stock disturbance on his property by hunters, which led him in 2009 to spend $20,000 buying wool to supplement his Icebreaker clothing wool-supply contract because his did not make the grade, he said.
Aubrey agreed the situation seemed far from resolved.
"It's very much in the hands of the Commissioner of Crown Lands."
In his letter to Gullen, Cuddihy said that DOC staff had met Aubrey several times before the car park was established.
This included accompanying the farmer along the route with a satellite navigation system to ensure the car park did not encroach on his property.
Aubrey was provided $6000 of signs and fencing by DOC to warn the public off his property, Cuddihy said.
DOC is pursuing a memorandum of understanding with Linz to resolve access issues to the park.