Matthew Martin / Stuff
Jonathan Berry’s tree hug failed to save liquid amber from council chainsaws.
A quiet Tokoroa cul-de-sac became the scene of a tense confrontation between a resident eager to save a beloved tree and city contractors sent to remove it, which ultimately led to the resident’s arrest .
The scene unfolded around 8am on Thursday when contractors from the South Waikato District Council (SWDC) arrived at Dunbar Pl with instructions to remove an approximately 60-year-old tree of liquid amber from a roundabout at the end of the street.
However, moments before their chainsaws came to life, Dunbar Pl resident Jonathan Berry grabbed his ladder, climbed the tree, and straddled one of its limbs, preventing its impending destruction.
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Curious neighbors were amused by Berry’s attempt to save the tree as he sat precariously in its leafy embrace until he tried to make himself more comfortable and almost fell about three meters of the ground.
His cries for help were eventually answered and the contractors helped him down, and Berry only returned home to get into his car and park it under the tree while the contractors removed some of its members.
Tensions began to rise, but a council staff member and Berry’s mother calmed the situation, but not before Berry was approached by an angry neighbor who expressed his displeasure with his actions using language quite colorful.
Berry and her mother then retreated to their home and watched in anguish as the contractors quickly removed what was left of the tree’s branches.
Police arrived around 11 a.m. and arrested Berry, taking him to the Tokoroa police station for questioning.
Prior to his arrest, Berry said it was a sad day when people who wanted to protect their local environment were not listened to by authorities.
Berry and her mother Eve said they had tried to work with the council to prevent the tree from being removed over the past month, even going so far as to ask their neighbors to sign a petition.
The petition was signed by 19 residents of Dunbar Pl, but when the Waikato weather several said they didn’t mind anyway.
“This is another example of the weakening of democracy in this country,” Ms Berry said.
“It was quite upsetting the way we were treated.”
Berry said he wanted the council to care about what its residents were saying and gave it a few options, such as pruning the tree or replacing it with a younger specimen.
“And when a clear majority wants the tree to stay, it seems to me extremely wrong that the council can just say ‘we’ve heard you’ and go ahead regardless without any concessions or explanations.”
SWDC Assets Group director Ted Anderson said the tree had to go because it was too large for a street tree and the root structure was damaging the sidewalk, curb and road.
“We understand that people love street trees and appreciate the passion of residents, but this tree is causing infrastructure damage that will become increasingly expensive to repair,” Anderson said.
“The council needs to balance maintaining the tree because people love it there with the ongoing cost and level of service of the road and trail system.
“We would no doubt be criticized for ongoing and expensive repairs in this area if we repeatedly repaired without solving the problem – which is the tree,” he said.