Skyline defends storm debris questions, council comms come under attack
Skyline Enterprises is defending the way it has managed land above the Queenstown Cemetery that was heavily damaged by falling timber and debris in last week's rainstorm.
In a statement to Crux the New Zealand-owned international company that runs the Queenstown gondola says its forestry practices are robust and have been validated by external experts.
The company confirms it is engaged in a tree clearing operation on the steep land surrounding the gondola, saying the exercise will minimise fire risk.
"There is a plan to regenerate the Bob’s Peak hillside. We’re working with the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust and have engaged an ecologist for a preliminary report," Skyline chairman Peter Treacy has told Crux.
Mr Treacy is also denying that in recent months a log slipped down the hill and collided with vehicles parked outside Skyline, as has been reported on social media, but has confirmed an earlier incident.
"In 2020, there was an incident whereby outside of operational hours a log on the lower slopes of Bob's Peak was felled and entered the Skyline staff car park damaging a vehicle. The event was notified to WorkSafe who deemed that no further action was required."
In a seperate move today Skyline Enterprises has postponed a planned September 23 shareholders meeting in Queenstown until October 11, when the meeting will now take place online.
One of the tourism operators renting land on Bob's Peak, Trent Yeo of Ziptrek ecotours, has today expressed his frustration at what he describes as poor communication from the Queenstown Lakes District Council.
Mr Yeo has told Crux that while he was initially able to contact interim QLDC chief executive Tony Avery after the weather event he has since found it very difficult to get any news or assistance from the council.
"I pay a significant rent to QLDC each year and make a big contribution to the local economy, but now I can't even reach my business and am the operator most seriously affected by the storm damage."
Over the weekend the QLDC asked Mr Yeo to carry out his own geotech report on the storm damage - which he did, even though he questions why he had to carry out the work when the land belongs to the council.
Mr Yeo has also told Crux he had to vacate his business for 10 weeks while Skyline recently carried out work on its new gondola while still paying full rent to the QLDC during that period.
He says he's been speaking with a number of businesses on Brecon Street, just below the gondola and the cemetery, and they have all expressed similar frustrations in terms of council communications and emergency handling.
Crux put the following questions to the QLDC with a deadline of 12pm, today (Monday, September 25) but by 3.30pm had received no answers. QLDC sent a brief statement at 3.40 pm: "Council officers with authority to answer these questions remain in debrief/safety meetings relating to the weather event. They are aware of your query and we will respond as soon as we’re able."
- Who is responsible for the land above the cemetery that got hit by water and timber in the recent storm?
- If it is QLDC land what are the lease and resource consent issues around this land (involving Skyline or other parties) and issues such as safety and timber/flooding etc?
- Why was the land above the cemetery cleared of trees when it appears the new gondola did not require this area of land to be cleared - the new gondola is exactly where the old gondola was.
- Is QLDC mounting any compliance action (with penalties - and what are those penalties?) in regard to this flooding event and the subsequent damage to the cemetery and other areas - plus the clear risk to public safety that was evident?
Crux will publish answers to these questions when received from the QLDC as well as questions we have asked regarding the ongoing absence of council chief executive Mike Theelen.
Update: 4.05 pm - answers below re: CEO Mike Theelen being on extended leave.
Can we please get details of the current absence of CEO Mike Theelen. We understand that he’s attending his daughter’s wedding that was delayed because of Covid - but when did Mr Theelen go on leave and when is he due back?
Mike left the afternoon of 8 September and is due back in the office 9 October.
Was this an overseas wedding?
Yes, his daughter’s wedding – rescheduled from during the pandemic – is in Europe.
Has there been any request from staff or elected members for him to return to work earlier than planned due to the current and ongoing public crises in Queenstown ?
No. Mike has been kept informed of key developments but there has been no requirement for him to return to Queenstown on this occasion. As is always the case, members of QLDC’s senior management team have been Acting Chief Executive in Mike’s absence. This was initially Tony Avery with Stewart Burns taking over from today. They have been/are leading Council’s response to both the cryptosporidium outbreak and the recovery from last week’s weather event (noting that the latter was led by Emergency Management who stood up the Emergency Operations Centre overnight Thursday; actions during that time were the remit of the on-duty Controllers.)
Can you also confirm that Mr Theelen’s planned QLDC business trip(s) to Queensland have been cancelled?
Mike is no longer attending the Asia Pacific Cities Summit due to it being so close to his return from leave. Mayor Lewers still plans to attend.
Main Image: Damage to the cemetery from logs and debris Image: Evan Jenkins.