Kimberley lodge owner in DEC land battle

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

A David and Goliath battle between the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and Taffy Abbotts, of Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge, looks set to boil over.

Mr Abbotts has been told by DEC, that the owners of the land on which his wilderness lodge business is run intend to advertise for expressions of interest in the Mt Hart homesteads and gardens when Mr Abbotts contract expires in November, 2011.

An email and YouTube campaign supporting Mr Abbotts and aimed at drawing attention to his plight has caught the attention of Premier Colin Barnett, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Regional Development and Lands Wendy Duncan and other WA MP’s.

Mr Abbotts has worked for more than 20 years to create the lodge renovating the buildings and rejuvenating the landscape into a major Kimberley attraction.

While the improvements have been done in partnership with DEC, Mr Abbotts said that over the years the majority of capital expenditure and maintenance work has been completed and bankrolled by himself.

“The contract of service agreements I have with DEC states it should have paid for all developments and major maintenance works, ” Mr Abbotts said.

“They have now informed me that they are not going to renew the contract.

“They have told me they are not taking my business out as a going concern with the lease, which means I am going to lose my home, my livelihood, my business and the country I love.

“DEC has also informed me via the state solicitor that they do not owe me anything for the capital works I have completed at my own expense.”

Mr Abbotts said the lodge has been valued at $1.9 million, but DEC has only offered him $200,000 compensation, which he had 28 days to accept or the offer would lapse.

“The conditions were that I would have to completely vacate the property for seven days before they would inspect it to make sure it is in a ‘reasonable condition’ before paying me, ” Mr Abbotts said.

“We have rejected the offer. It was insulting and so were the conditions attached to it.”

Mr Abbotts said that despite the heartache of losing his home, livelihood and business as well as the country he loves, the opportunity to negotiate a fair settlement rather than being railroaded by DEC is all he wants.

DEC has confirmed Mr Abbotts had a contract with it from 1995 to “use, manage and maintain the facilities at Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge”, which was extended by exercising Mr Abbotts’ options until November, 2011.

A DEC spokesperson said Mr Abbotts has never had a lease, but was welcome to apply for one when the Mt Hart homestead area is offered on the open market next year as a tourism venture.

While DEC records show Mr Abbotts contract began in 1995, he has worked at Mt Hart since 1991; it took DEC (then CALM) four years to write up an official document.

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