Whakatāne resident Don Meads has decided that rather than watch the kōwhai tree he scattered his wife Maryanne’s ashes under die from a traumatic relocation, he would like to have timber made into a memorial carving.

Meads has been in dispute with Bay of Plenty Regional Council over the past few months over the removal of the tree from the stopbank behind his Riverside Drive home. The regional council is now removing vegetation, including Meads’ tree, from the stopbank to protect its integrity during potential flood events.

When told the tree was going to be removed despite his objections, he asked to have it relocated nearby on his property at the toe of the stopbank.

The council produced reports from arborists and geotechnical engineers saying the tree was in decline and was not likely to survive replanting. Replanting it in the position he had indicated would create even more of a risk to the stopbank’s integrity.

The council negotiated with Meads to replant the tree on his front lawn, which they planned to do on Tuesday. However, he was unhappy with the move as he felt the soil was not suitable there.

On Tuesday morning, police were called in to talk to Meads when he parked his vehicle under the tree to obstruct the workers. Meads was persuaded to move his vehicle and allow the work to be carried out the following day.

“I had a very traumatic night on Tuesday, worrying about the tree and all the heartache that it’s caused,” Meads told the Beacon.

After doing some research on the internet, he decided the chances of the tree surviving relocation were less than 10%.

“At 4am, I came up with the idea that I did not want to live the rest of my life in a position of watching a tree, that was a memorial to my wife, die.”

At 5.30am, he texted Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder, with whom he has had frequent discussions on the topic over the past four months.

He said, because of the emotional stress and the inevitable destruction of the kōwhai, a more intelligent and less costly solution was to have the wood from the tree made into a small piece of furniture by Whakatāne cabinetmaker Jim Williamson.

“Then I will have a memorial to Maryanne on a permanent basis rather than a pile of rotten wood, bringing more heartache to me.”

He said Leeder had agreed the same day to the regional council putting up to $2000 into the memorial and the tree was cut down and left on the site.

Meads said he wanted to thank the many people in the community, including members of the police, who had supported him for standing up for his rights.

“The community support has been amazing.”

Today, he received a gift, delivered to his letterbox of an embroidered kowhai tree and a box of chocolates. The note said it was from a Henderson St resident also affected by the stopbank clearance work, saying that what he had done was what they had wanted to do but had not.

“We know how heart-wrenching and emotionally draining it is for you to go through this. Good on you for pushing back.”

By Diane McCarthy, Local Democracy Reporter

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air