EcoWorld Aquarium owner John Reuhman continues to fight his lease in Blenheim High Court.
Marlborough’s deputy mayor has denied claims he told EcoWorld Aquarium owner John Reuhmann he would never end his lease on the port.
A High Court hearing on the dispute over the Aquarium’s lease continued before Judge David Gendall this week.
Reuhman claims EcoWorld Aquarium and Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has been promised a renewed lease by landlord Port Marlborough. The port denies this and is immediately demanding the costs from EcoWorld to take possession of the land and building and to remove and adapt the animals.
Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor testified Wednesday that she understood Reuhmann had made allegations that she told him she would never end Port Marlborough’s lease because it was a significant tourism asset.
Aquarium staff are heartbroken after Port Marlborough confirmed it would not be renewing its lease. (Video first posted on July 6, 2021)
* EcoWorld rejects Port Marlborough documents to fight eviction
* Aquarium workers camp out with the fish and refuse to leave even though the lease is up
* Due to the end of the lease, the staff will occupy the aquarium in protest
Port Marlborough was directly owned by Marlbrough District Council through MDC Holdings. Councilors had no say in the day-to-day operations of Port Marlborough.
Taylor said he met with hundreds of different constituents during his six years as a councilman. He met with Reuhman and said they often talked about the general Picton case.
This includes Reuhman’s requests to have a night market next to EcoWorld, more lighting installations on the Picton waterfront and CCTV near EcoWorld.
But he said he didn’t recall EcoWorld ever making a statement about its lease.
Reuhman’s lawyer, Duncan MacKenzie, told Taylor that he’s always been positive about EcoWorld — and perhaps because he’s had so many meetings with constituents, it’s harder to remember the exact conversation.
“I don’t remember the conversation that Mr. Reuhman had,” Taylor said.
“I’m not going to speculate, I can’t remember the conversation. In my role as a consultant, I know well where my management role begins and ends, so I would be surprised if I gave that reassurance.”
When asked if he had spoken positively about EcoWorld in the past, Taylor said he was positive about Picton and all its tourism assets.
“Being a champion is one of my roles. I can’t remember if I was positive about the aquarium or not, but I am positive about Picton’s tourism assets.”
Reuhman denied the claims he lived on the EcoWorld website.
But on Wednesday, Port Marlborough solicitor David Friar produced a copy of Reuhman’s residential address as listed on the New Zealand Companies Register, listed as EcoWorld.
The court heard earlier this year that lawyers for the port questioned Reuhman’s lawyers at the address. Friar said the companies’ register was updated to a Christchurch address just three days before Reuhman’s lawyers responded to the Port Marlborough lawyers.
Even so, Reuhman said he was only in Christchurch a few days each month.
Friar also claimed that Reuhman forced everyone to sign a petition to shut down EcoWorld before entering the aquarium.
But Reuhman said that’s not the case, instead he recently held an aquarium open house where he charged people $1 to visit, but they had to sign a petition. Or they could pay the regular entrance fee instead.
Between the online and physical versions of the petition, nearly 8,000 signatures were collected and it was claimed that 117 local animals would have to be slaughtered as a result of the closure.
The court also heard that the first email Reuhmann sent after being told his tenancy was to end was to Marlborough District Council to ensure he was working on renewing the resource consent.
The case continues in the Supreme Court this week.