Fence needed after sheep on runway

A complaint about sheep on the runway at the Cromwell Aerodrome has led to the Central Lakes Equestrian Club facing a potential $15,000 bill for fencing.

The club has leased the land, rent-free, from the Central Otago District Council since 2000 and to supplement its income, subleases it for sheep grazing.

Council property officer Brian Taylor told council at its meeting this week the original lease agreement was so the area could be used to grow lucerne and the grazing of sheep was ''in contravention of the licence'', although that activity had taken place for quite some time.

The aerodrome is unattended, non-certified and has traditionally been used at a low frequency by private operators, he said.

The runway is grassed and receives little maintenance other than the occasional mowing.

A new hangar was constructed earlier this year which has led to a slight increase in activity at the airfield, and to the complaint of sheep on the runway.

Mr Taylor said the animals posed a potential risk to pilot and aircraft safety.

After the meeting councillor and equestrian club treasurer Gordon Stewart said there had been sheep there ''for as long as planes have been there'' and there had been no accidents.

After a recent meeting between the two parties and with council staff, it was agreed the club would partially fence the aerodrome to keep sheep from the airfield, subject to gaining council consent.

Mr Taylor said he did not know how much fencing would be needed but the area contained two 60m-wide airstrips, one 830m long and the other 1020m long.

He said any fence would need to be at least 7m from the edge of the airstrip.

Cr Stewart said the fencing could cost the club $15,000.

After the meeting he said it was ''quite a lot of money for not much gain'' and the club would need to discuss the issue before making any further decisions. He said they might ask the council to half-fund the cost of the fencing.

In his report to council, Mr Taylor said it was understood grazing over the aerodrome and adjacent Cromwell Racecourse made about $10,000 a year for the club. He estimated the aerodrome was responsible for earning about 25% of that. Mayor Tony Lepper said he thought it ''perfectly reasonable for them to fund the fencing because they are making money''.

The club's original lease was for a term of five years. It was renewed in 2006 but ran out again last year. The club had approached council asking for a renewal for another five years.

The council agreed to release the land to the club, to change the wording of the lease to state grazing instead of lucerne growing and include a provision for the club to fence the land.

Mr Taylor told council if they did not agree to allow the area to be fenced, the club would likely give up the lease and responsibility for grass control would fall back on council at a cost much greater than what was budgeted for aerodrome care.