Waikato Regional Council is expressing concern about major delays in addressing environmental offending at a nationally significant King Country wetland.
The case first went before the court in 2008 but an enforcement order has only now been granted to remediate the site, meaning the wetland has continued to degrade over the last five years.
The council’s comments come after King Country dairy farmer William Burr was finally convicted and fined just over $73,000 for causing severe damage to the wetland located on one of his farms in 2008. Mr Burr and his wife Pauline, who was convicted but not fined, have also had the enforcement order imposed against them by the court to try and remediate the seriously damaged site. DR Drainage, which carried out the work, was fined more than $21,000 after pleading guilty.
The farm, on State Highway 3 south of Te Kuiti, contains the Arapae Wetland, a nationally and regionally significant wetland.
Before purchasing the property Mr Burr was informed by the regional council and the Department of Conservation of the legal protections in place for the wetland. Despite this advice Mr Burr continued with the farm purchase and immediately engaged a contractor to clear and drain the wetland for the purpose of obtaining more pasture area for his farming business.
The council subsequently investigated the unlawful works and initiated a prosecution under the Resource Management Act (RMA).
“The environment really has been let down by the system in this case,” states council investigation manager Patrick Lynch.
“We have used every tool available to us under the RMA to try to effectively remediate the site and hold Mr Burr accountable. Unfortunately the legal process has taken so long that the chances of effective remediation have decreased dramatically with time.
“Our expert ecologist assessed the wetland in 2008 and gave advice that the drainage issues needed to be addressed urgently and that further ongoing effects could be halted or reversed if immediate remediation steps were undertaken. However, after her return to the site recently, her view is that the wetland could now be considered seriously degraded.”
Mr Lynch said that “since the council initiated the prosecution in 2008, Mr. Burr has resisted it every step of the way, as he is entitled to do. That resistance coupled with the numerous adjournments and hearings have meant five years of time lost.”
Mr Lynch welcomed the fact that an enforcement order requiring remediation of damage had ultimately been made.
“The order imposes a number of onerous commitments on the Burrs over a long period of time. However, had the order been able to be made much earlier it would have been better for the wetland.
“Even though it has taken some time to achieve, the court order still sends a very clear message to people considering this sort of offending to think twice before ignoring protective environmental regulation.”
The enforcement order prohibits certain work in and around the wetland, and requires other work to be undertaken in and around the wetland to restore as much of the former wetland as possible.
Specific requirements of the enforcement order include:
- complete fencing of the wetland, stream and tributaries
- prevent stock from entering and having access to the wetland
- permanently remove inlet and outlet pipes from the Mangaparo Stream
- commission hydrological and mudfish monitoring
- commission a vegetation and soil survey and map
- after hydrological monitoring is completed implement remediation plan as prepared by independent expert
- reporting to the Council is required every six months
- a bond of $50,000 is also required in the event of a failure by the Burrs to comply with the order
- also enduring obligations are imposed on any personal representatives, successors or assignees-in-title to Mr and Mrs Burr.