A Tirau farmer and an earthworks contractor have been fined a total of more than $60,000 over the cutting of a large farm track which threatened to discharge large amounts of sediment into a recognised trout stream.
The fine was handed down in the Tokoroa District Court this week by Judge Melanie Harland after Beulah Estate Ltd and Maintenance No 1 Ltd (MN1 Ltd), previously known as Excell Limited, each pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching the Resource Management Act.
The court heard the track was cut into a steep hill face to make it easier for cows to move from one part of the farm to the other.
EW staff became aware of the unlawful earthworks and, when inspecting the property, found extensive scouring of the earthworks after heavy rainfall in April last year. No recognisable erosion and sediment controls had been employed to control erosion of the earthworks or to minimise sediment entering water courses.
Measurements of an Oraka Stream tributary running through the site found excessive levels of sediment, a summary of facts from EW said, and the judge noted sediment had also got into a wetland area. She said some sediment may also have got to the Oraka Stream, a recognised trout stream, but accepted this was "speculative" to some degree and that there was no long-term damage to the Oraka Stream itself.
Judge Harland said both defendants had been "grossly negligent" in failing to have proper erosion and sediment controls.
"It must always be the responsibility of the land owner to check out what legal requirements apply."
Judge Harland went on to say: "Given that earthworks was its business, it is extremely surprising that MN1 Ltd did not properly check out whether or not resource consent was required or obtained for these earthworks."
Judge Harland also stressed that earthworks rules were important. "Farming operations such as this are a business and, whilst many in the farming industry might be familiar with their obligations under the RMA as they relate to effluent disposal, equally important is a working knowledge of the provisions regarding earthworks.
"The fact of the matter is that the RMA has been in force for 18 years and all people involved in business which require consideration of its requirements have had ample time to become aware of the fact."
She fined each company $30,150.
EW programme manager Grant Blackie said Judge Harland’s comments had an important message for the farming sector: "Farmers need to ensure they, and their contractors, are conversant with the rules related to earthworks before they embark on any projects that may put sediment into waterways. The risks of failing to do things right are just too high from an environmental perspective. And, as this case shows, companies can face significant financial penalties if they get it wrong."
The judge, while delivering her sentence, sent a clear warning by stating in open court that "there may be an increase in fines if the message does not get across".