BRADEN FASTIER / STUFF
One of the trees cut down in Motueka’s High St as part of a safety improvement project.
Fourteen elm trees have been cut down in Motueka’s main street despite the efforts of protesters to save them.
The tree removal on Wednesday night was part of the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency’s long awaited safety improvement project for High St.
However, the planned loss of the street’s distinctive golden elms has proved controversial. After a petition led by a Motueka school student to save them, the agency agreed to spare five, but said the others had to go to allow space for new traffic signals and turning lanes.
Protester and Motueka resident Te Wehi Ratana, who opposed the removal of any trees, has been on the street since Monday. At times he was joined by several other protesters.
On Wednesday night he climbed one of the trees and spent several hours in it after workers started removing other elms. It was unclear whether he was in one of the trees that was earmarked for removal.
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Ratana went to a Tasman District Council operations committee on Thursday morning where he told councillors that he spent five hours in the tree to save it from the chop.
“That’s why I’m here today, to come and speak to all you about the madness behind the decision-making that got to the point where … our trees were cut down last night.”
There was a “large opposition” to the plan and the majority of people did not want the trees removed, he said.
“The last thing we should be doing in a climate ecological crisis is cutting down trees to replace with traffic lights and widening roads.”
When committee chairman, deputy mayor Stuart Bryant, mentioned Ratana’s speaking time was almost up, Ratana said he intended to keep talking unless the police were called to throw him out.
“Like I said, I’m a climate activist and the rules of this room [are] something that I don’t really hold much respect [for].”
When the time was up, Bryant tried to adjourn the meeting but Motueka ward councillor David Ogilvie pleaded for Ratana to be allowed to speak a little longer.
“He’s extremely emotional … please give him at least two or three minutes to conclude,” Ogilvie said.
Bryant agreed to allow Ratana another two minutes.
Ratana said the council “and councils all over the country” were failing the people they represent.
There was a need to change business as usual “because business as usual is condemning us to a future where my tamariki right here might not be able to sustain their own life and that breaks the hell out of me”.
“I spent this whole week putting everything I had into trying to save those trees,” he said. “From here on out, I’m putting all my energy into changing power as usual in … Tasman and replacing what we have here with citizens’ assemblies because that is the way forward.”
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency director of regional relationships Emma Speight later told councillors that crews had removed “all of the trees that were identified for removal” and would continue with the other works.
The $6.8 million safety project will see a new roundabout, traffic lights, and pedestrian crossing signals installed.
Construction of the new roundabout at the Old Wharf Rd-High St intersection will start in September.