Local board chairman Paul Walden is staring down legal threats over comments he has made about possible contributing factors to the devastating Tahi Road floods in March and April.
Mr Walden has received two letters from lawyers Morgan Coakle, acting for Land Developers Ltd, one of the island’s longest established earthmoving firms, asking that he withdraw the comments or face possible defamation action.
Mr Walden is standing by his statements.
The two late-summer floods inundated businesses along the Tahi Rd industrial area, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
In discussions following the event, Mr Walden cited the dumping of fill last decade at 4-6 Tahi Rd (now the council works depot) as one cause of the inability of water to escape from the catchment into Okahuiti creek. He has said he saw dumping being carried out by former owners Land Developers Ltd.
Mr Walden used the legal privilege of last week’s local board meeting to make public that he had been asked to withdraw the comments or face legal action. The board voted to attach the letters to the minutes of its May meeting.
The first legal letter dated 17 May states: “We are instructed that you have advised others, including members of the local board, that the land had been filled without consent by our client and that it was as a consequence blocking the overland flow path.”
The letter indicates the fill was dumped to create a level site before Land Developers took ownership in 2002.
“We are instructed to advise that proceedings will be issued if the defamatory statements are not immediately withdrawn and/or … further similar statements are made by you in the future.”
Attached to the letter is correspondence from the old Auckland City Council, sent in 2001 to previous owner Amalgamated Contracting Ltd, regarding “illegally dumped material”.
A second letter, dated 25 May, warns the “potential damage to our client’s reputation will grow” unless the “defamatory” statements are withdrawn. “Failing this our client will look to its remedies.”
Mr Walden told the board meeting he “won’t be fettered or intimidated” in his role as a democratically elected community representative.
He said he had rented some land in Tahi Road last decade and witnessed works taking place at 4-6 Tahi Road which he now considered to be part of the cause of the flooding. He saw fill dumped while Land Developers Ltd occupied the site. He did not know whether the dumping was consented or not, he told the meeting.
“I stand by my statements, which are not accurately reflected in the [legal] letters.”
He said the flooding was a tragedy for business owners whose goods and equipment were destroyed. He believed poor council consenting and compliance processes were ultimately to blame.
Contacted by Gulf News, Land Developers Ltd owner Peter Hay challenged Mr Walden to produce evidence to back his claims.
“I’d like him to come up with specific dates and times,” Mr Hay said. “I’m sure that if we had illegally dumped fill in the flow path the council would have been on to us like a tonne of bricks.
“We have evidence that it was illegally filled by the previous owner.”
Mr Hay said Mr Walden had made the allegations referred to in the legal letters in emails sent to members of the council, the local board and the public.
Mr Walden denies that he sent emails alleging illegality. •
Land Developers Ltd, now based at 20C Tahi Road, was one of the hardest hit victims of flooding in the industrial zone during the March and April downpours.
The company’s low-lying rear site, behind Waiheke Organic Food, was hit twice and is still not operating at full capacity, owner Peter Hay says.
Its offices including computers and records were destroyed in the first flood on 8 March. Seven of 11 vehicles that were swamped have been written off. Four containers filled with machinery including compressors, generators and parts were also damaged.
Flood levels rose even higher during the second deluge in early April, Mr Hay says. “We only just managed to save all our brand new computers – we were up to our waists in water at 10.30 at night.
“To be hit a second time was pretty stressful. It cost us quite a few hundred thousand and insurance doesn’t cover all of that. We had massive damage across the board – you don’t expect to be totally wiped out like we were.”
Mr Hay says the main cause of the flooding is the inadequate size of drainage pipes.
“From my understanding it’s the outlet. The pipes are too small to let that volume of water get past the transfer station so it’s banking up like a dam. The pipes should have been changed long ago. We are still not fully back up and running and we live in fear of the next flood.”
He had no comment on suggestions some landowners were looking to sue the council over the drainage problems. • Geoff Cumming