Port Marlborough hires ‘specialized’ staff to rehome EcoWorld animals

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EcoWorld owner John Reuhman emailed the media in 2021 claiming that more than 100 animals in the aquarium would have to be “slaughtered” because his lease was not renewed. (File photo)
Photo: Stuff

It comes after a decision by Judge David Gendall, who was released Friday, ruled that EcoWorld owner John Reuhman had 20 business days to vacate the waterfront building after a Supreme Court attempt to stop his eviction failed. He could see if he could rehome animals during that time, if he wanted to.

Port Marlborough would take over responsibility for any animals left over after the 20 working days.

In a statement released Tuesday, Port Marlborough said they welcomed the court order granting them “repossession” of their land after EcoWorld’s 16-month “occupation”.

“The decision of Justice Gendall not only confirms Port Marlborough’s legal position as a landlord, but also endorses our conduct during this challenging period,” the statement said.

The port said they hoped Reuhman would “finally do the right thing” and try to rehome the animals and leave the premises as directed by Judge Gendall.

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“Nevertheless, the welfare of the animals remains our top priority, and we have hired specialist staff to assist in this process,” the statement said.

The port would continue to work with Te Papa Atawhai / the Department of Conservation, the Zoo and Aquarium Association, Ministry for Primary Industries / Manatū Ahu Matua, iwi and other expert bodies to coordinate the sustainable relocation or release of the animals, if necessary. said the statement.

The statement said planning for the site was well underway and they looked forward to consulting with the Marlborough community, iwi and stakeholders on how the site can “best serve the community” going forward.

Meanwhile, when a Local Democracy Reporter and visual journalist visited on Tuesday, the waterfront aquarium was open to the public. An employee also sold someone a ticket for the cinema in the building.

Reuhman told the reporter his lawyer advised him not to talk.

However, in a statement released by his attorney later in the day, Reuhman said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are still considering the sweeping implications of last week’s judgment and EcoWorld’s future options,” Reuhman said, adding that he felt “privileged to have led EcoWorld for nearly 20 years.”

Reuhman said it came as a “terrible shock” when Port Marlborough informed him in April 2021 that it was not renewing EcoWorld’s lease.

“EcoWorld and I are considering our options. But even if the court’s decision means the port takes over the building and its creatures, I still hope it won’t destroy EcoWorld, but build on EcoWorld’s work over the past 20 years. has done for years, to the benefit of the Picton community, the wider Marlborough region and, perhaps most of all, the environment.”

Justice Gendall’s decision rejected Reuhman’s claims “in their entirety,” saying Reuhman built his case “solely” around a letter from Port Marlborough, in 2015, granting him the right to renew EcoWorld’s lease.

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But instead of accepting that offer, Reuhman backtracked with a “counteroffer” and tried to negotiate better terms for the lease. It was a basic principle of contract law that a counteroffer was a rejection of the original offer, Gendall said in the decision.

Talks between the two over the next three years discussed a number of “potential changes” to the lease, including the “possibility” of a right to renewal, the decision said. However, an agreement was never reached and the lease instead expired on natural terms.

Gendall said the port was entitled to damages for the cost of removing improvements from the land, including the aquarium and stock left over after the 20 working days. Reuhman must also pay all legal fees incurred by Port Marlborough in connection with the proceedings.

Local democracy reporting is public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air

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