Pierre Johnson is facing legal costs of close to a million dollars. Cr Jim Doukas: “I think Pierre was right in what he did.”
Nanjing Night Net

A FARMER’S eight-year-long battle with Moyne Shire Council over an unused road reserve has come to a costly end.

Pierre Johnson, of Tarrone, fought the council all the way to the Supreme Court, but a judgment handed down yesterday morning dismissed his case.

Mr Johnson had challenged the shire over whether it had the right to open up an unused lane on his property that would link paddocks owned by neighbouring property owner Vincent Lee.

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered Mr Johnson pay the court costs of the shire, Mr Lee and Mr Lee’s company Temple Industries, an associate justice said.

It is estimated those court costs could run close to $750,000.

Mr Johnson has previously told The Standard he was “hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket” already on the matter. He did not wish to comment on the court’s ruling yesterday.

The “Tarrone Lane” issue, as it has been known, began at a Moyne Shire Council meeting on April 27, 2004 with a recommendation that council staff ask the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) to terminate part of the unused road licence owned by Mr Johnson to allow Mr Lee access between his two properties.

Mr Johnson opposed the move on a number of grounds, including increased disease risk for his cattle, flooding issues and a lack of evidence as to why Mr Lee needed access to the road.

The meeting erupted in controversy when the mayor at the time, Brenda Hampson, appeared to ignore a request for a foreshadowed motion by then-councillor Dick Prendergast, with Ms Hampson instead moving the matter on to a vote, which approved passing the matter onto the DSE.

Mr Prendergast, who stormed out of the meeting in protest, claimed he had been “gagged” and planned to suggest councillors inspect the site before making a decision.

Mr Johnson and his brother Adrian were present at the meeting and were asked to leave after calling the councillors “wankers”.

The incident triggered allegations of favouritism by the council. The matter also inadvertently led to Mr Prendergast’s removal from council after he was found guilty in a Warrnambool court of assaulting a shire employee during a site inspection at Mr Johnson’s property on May 10, 2005.

Mr Johnson has been fighting the shire on the matter ever since.

He won a court case against the state government in 2007, which effectively handed control of the unused road reserve back to Mr Johnson, having found the DSE had erred in its processes.

Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will rule on whether the government has to pay Mr Johnson’s costs in regards to that case.

Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas, who has been on the council since before the issue began, said Mr Johnson had been hard done by.

“Personally, I think Pierre was right in what did,” Cr Doukas said.

“I can’t understand why the shire did what it did.

“It was going to be impossible to build a road where the recommendation was to build it.

“This whole thing has been a long, drawn-out disaster. It should have never gone to court. It should have been settled.

“Pierre has his unused lane back so we should have got out of it.

“It’s probably going to cost him three-quarters to a million dollars.

“And what’s come after all these years? It’s cost a farmer a lot of money, it’s cost the shire a lot of money, it’s cost the ratepayers a lot of money, and there’s still no guarantee a road will ever get built.”

Moyne Shire chief executive David Madden said the shire was merely “defending itself” on whether it had “the right to make a decision on the road reserve”.

The court found the shire had done nothing wrong, so the matter rests with the DSE, Mr Madden said.

“I assume the DSE will have to start their process again,” he said.

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