‘Cool heads’ sorted tree-power conflict

A “war” was brewing back in the late-1980s between orchardists, dairy farmers and the power board over hundreds of kilometres of shelter belt trees which were threatening power lines in the Bay of Plenty.


Leo Mangos and Ian Noble were instrumental in creating policies to prevent shelter trees from damaging power lines.

“The power board had the right to cut off, at ground level, any trees affecting their legal responsibility to bring an uninterrupted supply of power to all consumers,” says Leo Mangos of Tauranga.

“The board had identified 1700 kilometres of shelter belt trees affecting power lines and I could just envisage some very volatile situations arising in the Bay, if very stroppy orchardists were confronted by an enthusiastic chainsaw operator working at ground level on their shelter trees.”

It was to prevent such altercations that Ian Noble of Katikati contacted Leo, suggesting it was time for cool heads to find a solution acceptable to all parties.

Ian was Bay of Plenty president for Federated Farmers and Leo was New Zealand Fruitgrowers Federation director of the Bay.

Ian says frequent power cuts at milking time, many caused by orchard shelter trees, had local farmers up in arms, and demanding action.

The kiwifruit industry was experiencing rapid growth, with farmland converted to orchards, and quick-growing trees planted to protect young vines.

However, Leo says in many cases little thought was given to how those shelter trees might impact on power supply, and many where planted far too close to the lines.

No threat
Ian and Leo arranged to meet with Tauranga Electric Power Board’s general manager Eddie Graham, to find a solution.

They took Eddie to see well-trimmed shelter trees in Te Puke’s No 1 Rd to demonstrate that when properly managed, shelter trees were not a threat to power lines.

“We were also able to show growers that shelter kept to an appropriate height actually gave better protection to vines than shelter which was too high, and could cause a ‘dumping’ effect and wind damage to vines closest to the shelter,” says Ian.

Leo says the philosophy he promoted, to calm everything down, was “there must be consultation between all parties”.

“I’d seen first-hand the heavy-handed approach to trees taken by the very autocratic Otago Central Electric Power Board and didn’t want a repeat of that in the Bay of Plenty,” says Leo.

“After many local meetings and many more in Wellington, a common sense approach was finally hammered out which included consultation between all parties.”

Dispensation grant
A dispensation was granted to allow trees to be above the “growth limit line” which applied to trees near power lines.

If disputes arose between the owner of trees and the power board, arbitrators would be called in to settle the issue.

Colin Spratt of Te Puke and Ian, were appointed as arbitrators.

“It was not an onerous role as in many cases the situation could be settled by phone calls,” says Ian.

“It didn’t take long for orchardists to realise the impact their trees were having on others and they mostly all agreed to the need to keep shelter trimmed.”

Cyclone Bola
Leo says the new rules to trim shelter trees were in force not long before the highly destructive storm Cyclone Bola struck in 1988.

“If the trees hadn’t been trimmed I believe they would have caused disruption to power supplies which was so severe it could have resulted in a civil emergency.

“With hundreds of kilometres of lines at risk from falling trees, there would not have been enough linesman to repair the lines quickly enough to restore power.”

Many of the provisions Leo, Ian, Eddie and others thrashed out are part of the current Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003 which still include provisions for arbitrators, and also cover all trees affecting power lines.

Leo and Ian say it’s hard to image now, with today’s neatly maintained shelter belts, just what an issue the trees once were.

“Without the regulations and well-trimmed shelter, almost any big storm which hit the Bay would cause widespread disruption to power supply,” says Ian.


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