Felling of Half Mile pine trees goes ahead

The felling of pine trees at the Half Mile Reserve near the southern entrance to Alexandra...
The felling of pine trees at the Half Mile Reserve near the southern entrance to Alexandra started yesterday. Photos: Shannon Thomson
The axe has fallen on the Half Mile trees.

The Central Otago District Council’s (CODC) decision to proceed with the controversial felling of pine trees on the Alexandra Half Mile Reserve despite the threat of legal action has caused a raft of emotions for those opposed to the operation.

Last week, special council Kristy Rusher, acting on behalf of the Alexandra Half Mile Reserve Community Group (AHMRCG), advised councillors via a letter the group believed the CODC had failed in its statutory obligations under the Reserves Management Act 1977.

That belief was based on a lack of a reserves management plan in place for the reserve, and the planned removal of trees without "providing for the replacement, planting or restoration of the trees to be removed".

Group spokesman Chris Winter reiterated that during the council meeting’s public forum and requested felling be suspended until the matter was sorted, otherwise further legal action may be taken.

However, legal advice sought by the CODC affirmed the decision to remove the pine trees was lawful and the felling would proceed as planned, council community experience group manager David Scoones said.

The Otago Daily Times understands lawyers acting on behalf of the council have advised the AHMRCG the group’s concerns are based on a "misunderstanding of what the council has done and has committed to do".

In a response to questions from the ODT, parks and recreation manager Gordon Bailey said a 1982 decision by the minister of lands, the minister responsible for the Reserves Act 1977 at the time, extended indefinitely the period for local authorities to complete or prepare management plans for recreation reserves not approved by March 13, 1983.

This "blanket extension" applied to recreation reserves in existence on April 1, 1978, which under the Reserves Act were required to have management plans prepared by March 31, 1983, Mr Bailey said.

"Like many councils there are reserves that don’t have an RMP [reserve management plan] for the reasons stated above: The council has many reserves of varying sizes, for example approximately 600 square metres to our largest, over 100 hectares. Not all reserves require a reserve management plan for council to manage effectively."

The first logging equipment and heavy machinery rolled in to Alexandra before sunrise yesterday, and felling started at the southern end of the reserve mid-morning.

Anticipated protest action by residents of the Bridge Hill area did not happen.

Vocal opponent of the felling and neighbouring resident Ken Churchill said he was sad to see the trees go.

"I’ve been a neighbour since 1990 — my children, they’re bigger now, went out there all the time," he said.

"So many neighbours and people from afar use the reserve so much more than [the council] realises."