Gibbston water battle centred on Auckland developer
There are concerns earthworks on a private property at Gibbston have put a heritage site at risk and compromised neighbours’ access to water.
Heritage New Zealand has confirmed it is investigating alleged damage to an archaeological site in the valley.
Likewise, the Otago Regional Council has also confirmed it has received two recent complaints in the area.
Crux has been told the site in question is owned by Auckland property developer Tim Edney, who has been approached for comment.
Crux understands from talking with neighbouring property owners the dispute centres on a spring-fed pond and a 150-year-old water race.
However, Heritage New Zealand is unable to confirm this as its inquiries are ongoing.
It says it is investigating “alleged damage to an archeological site”, but is unable to elaborate further on what exactly the site is.
“Our archaeologists are undertaking research about the site as part of the investigation, and it’s too early yet to describe its features and/or significance.
“As this is an active investigation, we are unable to make further comment, however we may release statements in the future when it is appropriate for us to do so.”
Meanwhile, a neighbour, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the site in question is known as the schoolmaster’s pond.
On its edge sits a small stone cottage, which was the home for the original schoolmaster at the Gibbston school.
Also at the centre of the dispute, a water race that joins the pond, “hand dug in 1866, 3.2 kilometres, from Camp Creek to Gibbston”, the neighbour says.
The right to water in the race and pond belongs to nine properties, among them Valli Wines and Havoc Farm.
The current dispute began at the end of January, when water going in to the race was blocked as local contractor B&A Digging undertook earthworks at the pond.
Speaking with Crux at the time, B&A Digging owner Brandon O’Callaghan said he was under instruction to clean up the water course and any disruption to the water supply would only ever have been temporary.
However, he was told to down tools when the Otago Regional Council was called in.
Earlier, ORC compliance manager Tami Sargeant confirmed to Crux an abatement notice was issued to a property in the Gibbston Valley, but was subsequently lifted after the council worked with the property owner on the issue.
However, within weeks, another complaint had been made to the ORC.
“We’re currently investigating and are unable to provide further comment at this time,” Ms Sargeant says.
Another neighbour says the historical school was located at the site of the spring because of the water source.
And securing water remains an ongoing issue for locals.
Those talked to by Crux say the earthworks by B&A Digging happened on one of the hottest and driest days of what’s been a hot and dry summer.
With water needed for irrigation, it puts people on edge.
B&A Digging has told Crux it was contracted by Jobbe Holdings, which represents the nine property owners with water rights referenced above, to do the work.
But several representatives of Jobbe Holdings deny ever having contracted the work.
They say Mr Edney is pulling the strings and has no legal right to the water in the pond or the water race, despite both being on his property.
They're sceptical of claims the earthworks are simply aimed at a general clean up of the site, saying there's been no issue with water flow to necessitate any work.
Main image (Supplied): The schoolmaster's pond and stone cottage, just off the Gibbston Highway, are at the centre of ongoing investigations by the Otago Regional Council and Heritage New Zealand after complaints about significant earthworks at the site.