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Published: 2009-08-05 00:00:00

A Matamata dairy farmer and an earthworks contractor have collectively been fined nearly $59,000 in total for illegal, large-scale earthworks which led to tonnes of extra sediment getting into the Waihou River in 2007.

Environment Waikato, which brought the charges against McPherson Contractors Ltd and farmer Peter O’Reilly in the Hamilton District Court, said the scale of the fines sent a strong warning to people who did not follow proper procedures with environmentally risky earthworks.

"Failure to follow the earthworks rules properly can have significant environmental impacts," said EW programme manager Grant Blackie. "And, as this and another recent case in Tirau show, farmers can face big financial penalties if they don’t do things properly. They, and their contractors, need to make sure they know what the rules are and follow them."

District Court Judge Melanie Harland fined McPherson Contractors Ltd a total of $32,500 for undertaking the earthworks at Tower Rd, Matamata, without resource consent, while Mr O’Reilly was fined a total of $26,000. Both defendants entered guilty pleas.

Judge Harland said there was no excuse for McPherson Contractors Ltd not knowing resource consent was required, and that there had been a significant effect on the waterways which received elevated levels of sediment.

An EW summary of facts said McPherson Contractors Ltd was employed by Mr O’Reilly to carry out large-scale "cut and fill" earthworks on his farm near the Waihou River, with the aim of making his property more suitable for farming and cropping.

Given the slope of the land and its proximity to a waterway, resource consent for such work was required under the Waikato Regional Plan. A lack of proper sediment controls resulted in large quantities of sediment getting into water courses and eventually into the Waihou River.

"In the process the stream network below the site was smothered with sediment and the visual clarity of the water diminished."

EW said the elevated levels of suspended solids in waterways as a result of the earthworks would have negatively affected plant and fish life, as well as water quality generally in the stream near the site and in the Waihou River.

The summary said Steven McPherson, the sole director of McPherson Contracting Ltd, told EW he had been in the earthworks business for 20 years and had never obtained resource consent for any rural contouring work in that time, and that he was not aware of the Waikato Regional Plan. He said he did not believe any sediment from the site had got into the Waihou River.

Mr O’Reilly had said he did not know the Waikato Regional Plan applied to earthworks but acknowledged in hindsight that he should have got resource consent.