Up to a million tyres have been buried or otherwise disposed of at a rural Huntly property and the man responsible is nowhere to be found.
This week the Hamilton District Court took the unusual step of fining a company in the absence of its sole director for its part in offending against the Resource Management Act. Ross (Des) Britten Limited was convicted and fined $77,600.
The sole director, Ross Britten, is believed to be living in Australia to avoid this court case.
The decision of Judge Melanie Harland marks the end of a lengthy prosecution taken by the Waikato Regional Council relating to the large scale dumping of disused automotive tyres at a Naike property previously owned by Mr Britten.
The Council investigation that lead to the prosecution determined that over a period of years Mr Britten was paid to pick up old tyres from tyre outlets in the Auckland area. The tyre outlets assumed Mr Britten was disposing of the tyres correctly but instead he was using his own earthmoving equipment to bury large numbers of them at his rural Waikato property.
Council staff executed a search warrant at the property and used a large digger to uncover thousands of tyres, many sitting in or below ground water.
Records accessed during the course of the investigation indicated that Mr Britten had collected up to a million tyres from retail tyre outlets over a period of six years.
“Disused tyres are a huge problem for New Zealand, every year there are four million automotive tyres to be disposed of in this country,” said council investigation manager Patrick Lynch.
“They can be a real threat to the environment. When stored en masse above ground they are a terrible fire risk. When buried, and particularly when they are exposed to water, they can start to break down and discharge harmful contaminants.
“This is a case where an offender has directly profited by misleading the public and then unlawfully disposed of the tyres where they can discharge contaminants into the environment. It is really important that companies and individuals know that their old tyres are being disposed of correctly.”
Mr Lynch said that although the company involved had been fined, Mr Britten is still to face personal liability action.
“Though he has been convicted, he left the country before he was sentenced. The court has issued a warrant to arrest Mr Britten that I imagine will be executed if and when he returns to New Zealand.”
The property has been since been sold. Council staff made sure all parties involved in the purchase were aware of the presence of the tyres and the risk they pose.
“The council will continue to monitor water quality in the area and will consider further action if contamination levels rise,” said Mr Lynch.
For more information about correct disposal of end-of-life tyres visit www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/Services/Regional-services/Waste-hazardous-substances-and-contaminated-sites/Solid-waste/Tyre-disposal/.