A dairy farmer found guilty of effluent management offences has been ordered to speak of his experiences at a series of dairy effluent field days in a bid to avert offending by others.
Bennett Watson has also been ordered to make a public apology in an ad in the Waitomo News and fined $3000 for the offending at his company’s Te Kuiti property.
The unusual sentence imposed by Judge Jeff Smith in the Hamilton District Court followed Watson’s pleading guilty to four charges of breaching the Resource Management Act in 2008.
The court heard that effluent management failures by Watson and his staff led to over-application of effluent to paddocks and effluent getting into a tomo and related waterways.
Offending on one occasion involved the highest level of faecal coliforms in effluent that the judge had ever heard off, while another offence involved "the very highest end of carelessness". Judge Smith said the offending would have had a significant effect on water quality in the area in a number of instances.
However, Judge Smith accepted most of the offending was the result of inadequate systems rather than deliberate acts.
He set the starting point for an appropriate fine as $60,000, but taking into account a range of factors, including Watson’s genuine remorse and financially strained circumstances, the judge ordered that Watson:
· attend up to six farmer field days to speak of his experiences in the hope of deterring others from offending
· publish a quarter page apology in the Waitomo News
· pay a fine of $3000, plus court costs and a solicitor’s fee
"The public opporobrium that follows from publication [of the apology] and attendance at these workshops is a matter that has effect not only on yourself but on your family," Judge Smith said to Watson in his sentencing notes.
"Being prepared to do so shows to me that you are prepared to take a long-term commitment to the local community and to work through issues rather than run away from them."
Environment Waikato’s complaints and enforcement manager Rob Dragten said that, while the sentence was unusual, it sent a clear message that the court was prepared to think "outside the square" to impose deterrent sentences.
"The council's job is to put the facts before the court, and allow the court to decide an appropriate penalty," he said. "The whole point of sentencing is to proscribe a penalty meaningful to the defendant, and to deter others from offending. In this case, the penalty is a little unusual but we are satisfied it supports the important message that poor effluent management is unacceptable."