A Pukekohe poultry breeding farm company, T Good Limited, has been fined $42,000 after a “lahar” of chicken effluent ran from the property and contaminated a nearby stream.
In her sentencing notes released this week, following a hearing in the Auckland District Court, Judge Melanie Harland described the actions of company director Hai Zhai as being between “reckless and negligent”.
While it was difficult to quantify the effects of the spill on the Tutaenui Stream, Judge Harland said “it needs to be signalled that the court continues to be concerned about the cumulative effects of contaminated discharges to [waterways], and the slow but insidious degradation of them by what seem to be one-off unfortunate, but unintended events”.
A summary of facts from Waikato Regional Council, which brought the charges against the company, noted how in May last year a large pile of chicken effluent had been stored in a paddock to dry so it could be trucked away from the Buckland Rd property.
The court heard that following significant rain the stockpiled effluent had slumped and flowed down the paddock to the stream. The council responded to a complaint from a member of the public and inspected the site where testing showed significant stream contamination.
Following council intervention all remaining effluent was removed and disposed of lawfully.
Judge Harland commented on a range of complicated issues related to the spill and the degree of the company’s culpability, noting the spill was unintended.
However, she said: “More care should have been taken before placing the stockpile near to a downhill sloping paddock not far from the stream. The offending was reckless in the sense that in the autumn rainfall events are to be expected, although I accept that the severity of the rainfall over this period was not.”
Judge Harland said her starting point for a fine was $60,000. But after taking into account the company’s early guilty plea, previous good character, cooperation with authorities and the prompt clean-up carried out at the property, she settled on a fine of $42,000.
Regional council investigations and complaints manager Patrick Lynch said the prosecution was the first taken by the council under the increased penalty regime for environmental offending introduced in the 2009 amendment to the Resource Management Act.
“The maximum penalty for companies offending against the RMA is now as high as $600,000, reflecting the Government’s concern over pollution of waterways and the environment in general. So companies do need to be very vigilant about ensuring they comply with rules that protect waterways.”