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Eleventh hour settlement after environment authority drops legal action

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A Coffs Harbour woman has accepted a partial costs settlement after three years of legal action brought against her by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage over damage to a national park.

Vicki Moras lived in a villa complex in Coffs Harbour and was a volunteer on the executive committee of the owners’ corporation.

In June 2012, Ms Moras, on behalf of the owners’ corporation, directed a gardener to clear vegetation along the boundary of their property to minimise fire risk.

Legal action began in October 2013, when the OEH charged Ms Moras with the criminal offence of ‘causing damage to vegetation on land reserved or protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974’.

The case was thrown out of the Local Court in February this year, but the OEH lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court.

They dropped the action just days before a scheduled hearing and have agreed to a partial costs settlement.

Slater and Gordon Commercial Litigation Lawyer Andy Munro said the OEH had plenty of opportunities to withdraw before now.

“So far as we are aware, never before has there been a case in Australia where a volunteer on an executive committee has been sued for the conduct of an owners’ corporation,” Mr Munro said.

“The owners’ corporation is its own legal entity. It’s baffling as to why the OEH decided to pursue Ms Moras for three years of incredibly stressful legal action.”

"We told them they had sued the wrong person repeatedly, but they waited until the last minute and now have to pay some of Ms Moras’ costs, as well as those they incurred themselves."