Arthurs Pass neighbours at odds

Last updated 00:06 02/02/2008
Paddy Freaney
Gerry McSweeney

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Crucified kea and the corpse of a rare penguin have been used to deface the sign for an ecolodge near Arthurs Pass in what is claimed to be a "sick" campaign of harassment in the upper Waimakariri Basin.

Wilderness Lodge owner and former Forest and Bird president Gerry McSweeney said that since building the lodge in 1994, he and his wife, Anne Saunders, had been subject to a campaign against them.

The latest incident was last week, when two dead yearling kea were stapled in the sign of a crucifix to the lodge's sign on State Highway 73.

Several years ago, a dead Fiordland crested penguin had been stuck to the sign.

The "sick" offenders had never been identified, McSweeney said.

He said they had also been subject to a "continuous barrage of complaints about this operation to central, regional and local government" from Paddy Freaney, owner of the nearby Bealey Hotel, since their ecolodge was proposed in 1994.

The latest was three weeks ago, when Freaney lodged a complaint with the manager of Crown Lands alleging McSweeney and Saunders' leasehold property was overstocked. McSweeney denied the claim.

A spokesman for Land Information New Zealand (Linz), which oversees pastoral leases, confirmed it had received a complaint from Freaney and was aware of his concerns.

"Linz is looking into the situation and will respond to Mr Freaney once its investigation is completed," he said.

McSweeney said the incidents involving the kea and penguin -- both protected and vulnerable species -- were upsetting and he hoped it had not affected the image of the lodge.

"It's someone sick and we're very disappointed," he said.

"I think the community was shocked by this penguin thing. There is a lot of pride in this community in the conservation programme from Lake Pearson and us and through to Arthurs Pass."

Freaney, who gained fame in 1993 for claiming to have seen a moa, said he was concerned about what he perceived as the double standard of overstocking at a station that touted itself as a leading ecotourism destination.

"If he can prove he's legal, that's fine," he said.

McSweeney said Cora Lynn Station, on which the lodge is sited, was a well-run farm comprising more than 2000ha of pastoral lease and another 167ha of freehold and leasehold land.

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Like all the other farms in the area, they were struggling with drought conditions but were reducing stock numbers and had begun using what was planned as winter feed.

Freaney's complaint of overstocking was based on the pastoral lease and there were no restrictions on the freehold land, which was the best pasture, McSweeney said.

Freaney said he made a formal complaint rather than raise the issue informally with McSweeney because that was the stance McSweeney had taken against others in the area for perceived infractions.

"I just don't like Gerry McSweeney and I'm not in the minority," he said.

Freaney denied he had anything to do with the kea or penguin incidents, saying: "I wouldn't do it. It's absolutely appalling and I wouldn't support anyone doing that."


- The Press

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