Disgraced American TV host Matt Lauer says agencies trying to get an easement across his land at Lake Hāwea see him as an "easy mark".
Lauer told Radio NZ host John Campbell today that the Walking Access Commission and Department of Conservation were seeking the easement now because of his dismissal from NBC's Today Show in November over alleged sexual misconduct.
"I believe the groups that are behind this are in some ways unfortunately taking advantage of some difficult times I've been through over the past six months and I think they see me as an easy mark," he told Campbell.
"And what they're going to try to do is put this through, which would set a precedent because this has not been done ever before with a pastoral lease holder or property owner without that person's consent."
Lauer bought the 6468ha Hunter Valley Station on the shores of Lake Hāwea near the Mt Aspiring National Park for $13 million last year, with approval from the Overseas Investment Office.
This year the Walking Access Commission has applied for an easement that would allow unfettered access for trampers, hunters and tourists to a 40km unsealed, lakefront road that runs through the property.
But Lauer told Campbell that he already allowed access to almost everyone who requested it, and allowing unfettered access would harm farming operations.
He said more than 100 people had been granted access since he bought the station, and only three or four had been denied due to farming operations.
"Show me the logs of the people, of Walking Access [Commission] and other people, of all the people who they say have been denied [access]? They don't exist," he said.
He said the easement would create a problem.
"All of a sudden we would have no way of knowing who's back there," he told Campbell.
"One of the directors of one of the groups said it would be carefully managed, well by who?
"Is there going to be someone from Walking Access Commission sitting on the side of the road, or are the people that farm that property going to have to sit there and count every person who goes back there, and what's going to happen when they get back there and they don't come back out?
"Are we supposed to stop farming that land and go look for them?"
Lauer disputed reports that he was seeking millions of dollars in compensation if the easement was granted.
"I have not demanded a cent," he told Campbell.
But he said the easement would have an impact on the value of the property and he would explore possible compensation.
"I would explore that option, as I think anybody would," he said.
However Walking Access Commission chief executive Eric Pyle denied that the commission saw Lauer as an "easy mark" after his dismissal by NBC, and said the amounts of any compensation had not been discussed yet in negotiations over the easement.
He said the commission had been talking to Lauer's representatives "off and on" ever since the Overseas Investment Office gave him consent to buy the property last year with a condition that he acted "reasonably".
"The condition is about acting reasonably. What we are trying to do is define what that is," Pyle said.
He said the Department of Conservation would operate a lock and key system to control access to the property if the easement was granted, but thousands of people might use it every year.
"The access to Mt Aspiring has about 80,000 people a year. That is a working farming operation," he said.
"Ahuriri to the north has something like 5000 to 10,000 people. That was opened fairly recently.
"So the numbers of people wanting access into these areas are large, so 100 is not a huge number in the context."
Pyle said an easement was "a mechanism for negotiating" access conditions.
"I'd very much encourage Matt Lauer to contact us and have a discussion about it."