DoC did me over

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It’s taken 14 years. He’s cleared 15km of track, mostly with community labour. But with the finish line in sight, trailblazer John Mowat’s life’s work may cost him his home.

He blames the Department of Conservation but DoC says it’s entirely Mowat’s own fault.

Mowat says he’d lined up free labour and equipment to restore the final 150-metre stretch of the historic yet neglected Arrowtown-Macetown track – but landowner DoC suddenly said hold it.

The Arrowtowner – who won a DoC conservation award in 2007 for his track work – says the halt has cost him more than $11,000 personally and caused his health to “crash”, as well as costing Arrowtown dearly.

The financial burden is the major reason he’s put his Arrowtown home on the market: “If we had that money, we’d keep the house.”

Mowat also owes stonemasons, a labourer and a vehicle rental firm. “It’s hurt my reputation hugely.”

Part of the Macetown track links in with the 3000km Te Araroa national walkway, due to open in late-2010.

During the 14-year project, Mowat says DoC was often happy for him to proceed without a New Zealand Historic Places Trust “archaeological authority”.

So Mowat believed he could complete the last 150m on the same basis.

But an hour after meeting now-retired DoC regional boss Jeff Connell in Dunedin in July, Mowat says DoC Queenstown banned him from working till he got official NZHPT approval.

He’d been due to start next day with the free use of a digger, two scaffolders and five community service workers.

Instead he had to wait five weeks for NZHPT approval – and by the time he got it, most of the freebies had lapsed.

The scaffolders had left town so he had to pay two more men $50 an hour, and he had to hire other labour and a vehicle.

He even had to pay two stonemasons for three days of wasted work because they couldn’t access the site when the Arrow River rose from the spring thaw.

Mowat ended up personally forking out $2500 for equipment, $1000 in fuel, $3700 for wages, $3500 on vehicle hire and $350 in other expenses – all due to DoC’s ban.

Even his own 4WD, which he never charged for, is now out of action with water damage.

“I’m frustrated by DoC’s bureaucracy and waste. One piece of paper has cost me $11,000,” Mowat fumes.

He says the Arrowtown Village Association, for which he does the work, has no funds left – and DoC won’t reimburse him.

Mowat says his beloved Arrowtown will suffer too.

Tens of thousands more dollars would have been generated this summer from day-walkers being able to hike to historic Macetown without getting their feet wet for the first time since the 1930s.

He’s no idea when the track will now be finished. “They’ve reduced me to working on Sundays with a pick and shovel.”

Unless DoC rescues him, Mowat says the only funding will come from 20 cent honesty box donations.
He sums up his predicament as: “How to break a volunteer.”

However, local DoC boss Greg Lind says his department and NZHPT were within their rights to put Mowat on hold.

He hadn’t needed the archaeological authority for “rebenching the track” but it was necessary to re-do rock work on the final stretch.

Lind adds DoC wrote out the application form for Mowat and NZHPT fast-tracked it.

“The problem was he’d already engaged a whole group of people and undertaken a whole lot of cost.

“John is a lovely guy, works bloody hard on behalf of the community, just sometimes [he] goes well beyond his brief and gets himself into the poo.

“John came in and saw me and his exact words were, “I’ve f…ed up, Greg, big-time’.”