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West Coast forests legal threats waste resources

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MONDAY 13 DECEMBER

Threats of legal action on West Coast forests waste of Council resources

Legal action by West Coast Mayors on the interpretation of the West Coast Accord would be throwing good money after bad say conservationists.

"The interpretation of the Accord has already been the subject of two major court cases by West Coast councils and timber interests in the early 1990s when they unsuccessfully sought to increase the scale of native forest logging and extend the deadline for ending rimu logging," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

In 1995 the High Court, in a decision confirmed subsequently by the Court of Appeal in 1997, said that the Accord contained no commitment to a beech scheme and that Accord commitments had been fulfilled by calling of tenders for the scheme. The Court rejected claims that the Accord contained any terms which required a beech scheme to be started or maintained.

"In both the High Court and the Court of Appeal the Councils and timber industry failed in all of their claims that Government had breached the Accord."

"Relitigating the issue is a waste of resources and scarce ratepayer dollars," Ms Sage said.

In 1995 Jim O'Regan, chair of West Coast Resource Interests said the legal action had cost about $1.5 million with half of the cost being met from ratepayers and half from the saw-milling companies involved. (National Business Review, 6 October 1995).

"The Westland, Grey and Buller District Councils have all pleaded poverty and a small rating base as an excuse for not fully implementing the requirements of the Resource Management Act and for not closing sub-standard landfills on inappropriate sites such as next to wetlands and on river margins. Such claims will now ring hollow if Councils pursue costly legal action," Ms Sage said.

In a 1995 decision Judge Greig in the High Court stated (West Coast Regional Council & Grey District Council & Ors v Attorney General CP No. 478/92 at p30) : "The recommendation that was made by the First Working Party in its Final Report noted that there were organisations interested in submitting tenders in respect of the beech scheme and recommended that they should be invited to reappraise their tenders in the light of a new tender which was to be put out before the end of December 1986. In essence that is provided for in para 9 of the West Coast Accord document. That clearly was a commitment but only to proceed in a prospective way for the obtaining of tenders. There was no commitment in that to provide a beech scheme at all and certainly not of any particular quantities or dimensions. It was all subject to the availability or the tendering by suitable persons of suitable proposals. It was not an undertaking that, assuming tenders were so made, the Crown would accept any particular or any tender at all." ".. the contention of the fifth and sixth plaintiffs ...was that the Crown would provide sufficient indigenous resource to maintain a sustained yield beech scheme from the designated production areas. That is to say then, that not only would there be an identification of possible production areas and a new tender for the beech scheme, but that the scheme would be inaugurated and maintained and would add to the amount of indigenous and other timber to be made available. I reject the contentions and conclude that no such additional terms were ever agreed to by the Crown or any of the Ministers or other persons involved." "..what was proposed and undertaken was some further investigation on a prospective basis to ascertain whether or not some production would take place whether[in] the South Westland south of the Cook area or in respect of a beech scheme. There was no commitment of any kind in writing or in any other documentation to produce indigenous timber out of those areas or out of that scheme."

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For further information please contact: Eugenie Sage phone (03) 3666 317 (work) or (03) 3371 251 (home).


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