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Published: 2004-12-24 00:00:00

Matamata-Piako District Council has been convicted and fined for illegally discharging raw sewage onto land where it entered the Piako River.

It is to donate $15,000 to an environmental enhancement initiative project in addition to about $14,000 in costs following a recent District Court decision. Environment Waikato discovered the illegal discharge after receiving an anonymous complaint in October 2003. The Council was asked to shut down the operation immediately.

Environment Waikato estimated that 1100 cubic meters of raw sewage was discharged into the Piako River over two days. The discharge occurred while District Council staff were working on equipment at Morrinsville’s Allen Street Pump Station.

The discharge of untreated sewage was likely to have contaminated the Piako River so it could not be used for contact recreation, and was also likely to have affected aquatic organisms in the river, Environment Waikato said.

The District Council agreed to a restorative justice process and a conference was held with Council representatives, the Medical Officer of Health, iwi representatives from Te Hauora o Ngati Haua and Environment Waikato. The District Council tabled a written apology taking full responsibility for the discharge.

The District Council said it saw the restorative justice process as an opportunity to address the consequences of the offending and to make their best efforts at "putting it right".

The parties agreed a donation should be made to an environmental enhancement initiative which is to be decided by the parties before the end of April 2005.

Environment Judge CJ Thompson said the case was one of the first under the Resource Management Act to go to a restorative justice conference.

“This may not be appropriate in every case but in this case, I wholeheartedly applaud the process.”

The District Council had taken steps to ensure the incident did not happen again, including developing and reviewing risk assessment and risk management procedures.

Environment Waikato, Resource Use Group Manager Chris McLay said that “Matamata Piako District Council is committed to working with Environment Waikato and other parties involved in the restorative justice process to ensure that a good environmental outcome is achieved.”