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Published: 2008-11-12 00:00:00

An independent commissioner has backed an Environment Waikato recommendation that a Rotorua farmer cannot use a steel shipping container as a makeshift stock crossing.

The commissioner, Rob van Voorthuysen, found the shipping container was structurally unsound and not suitable for that purpose.  Technical evidence showed it would “inevitably rust and collapse”, creating an environmental and human safety hazard.

Rotorua dairy farmer Douglas Jon Withers has been involved in a long-running dispute with Environment Waikato over his right to use the shipping container as a makeshift bridge.  He has been using it to move stock and farm machinery across the Rotohouhou Stream, on his farm, despite Environment Waikato warnings that it is rusty and at risk of collapse.

In 2007, after Mr Withers failed to progress a resource consent application for the container, Environment Waikato issued an abatement notice requiring him to remove it from the stream.  He refused, so the council took him to court.

Mr Withers entered a guilty plea in the Rotorua District Court and was fined $10,000 plus costs.

Subsequently Mr Withers’ company, DJ & C Withers Farms Ltd, took steps to progress the resource consent application for the container.

Commissioner van Voorthuysen considered the application at a hearing in Rotorua on November 3, where he heard a range of evidence, including opinions from two qualified engineers.

“It was the view of both engineers that a shipping container is not designed to cope with loads arising from vehicular traffic and that this is evidenced by its current deformed state,” Mr van Voorthuysen said.

“Furthermore, both engineers were of the view that the container roof and walls would rust and that in a short space of time...the container would lose its structural integrity and it would collapse.”

Mr van Voorthuysen declined the resource consent application, finding it would have “more than minor actual or potential adverse effects on the environment that are unable to be avoided, remedied or mitigated”. It was also contrary to the general theme of the Regional Policy Statement and the Waikato Regional Plan, and inconsistent with the purpose and principles of the Resource Management Act.