An earthworks company involved in the works has also been fined over $21,000.
The case brought by Waikato Regional Council – and heard in Hamilton District Court before Judge Melanie Harland - concerned a series of events in 2008 immediately following the purchase of a King Country farm by William and Pauline Burr.
The farm, situated on State Highway 3 south of Te Kuiti, contains the Arapae Wetland, a wetland recognised by the RAMSAR convention and home to a threatened indigenous fish species and significant native vegetation.
Prior to purchasing the property the Burr’s received advice from the Department of Conservation and the regional council as to the significance of the wetland and restrictions on what activity can occur that may impact on the wetland.
Despite this instruction the Burrs immediately started unlawful works. The works, carried out by local company DR Drainage Ltd, included clearing and draining the wetland, excavating the Mangaparo Stream and the placement of culverts.
Judge Harland described the offending as “energetic” stating that “Mr Burr was moving forward at a very fast pace and the impression I gained was that he was not stopping for anyone”.
Judge Harland has ruled that this activity has caused significant environmental effect and has ordered that a remediation plan be placed before the court by 2 March 2012. This plan is to detail how the remediation of the wetland can best be completed by the Burrs.
Following a complaint from a member of the public in 2008 the regional council commenced an investigation and subsequent prosecution. The case has gone through several stages in the last three years including a disputed facts hearing.
Defendant William Burr pleaded guilty to six charges bought by the council. Judge Harland has indicated an end fine of $73,102 for Mr Burr but will defer a final decision on the fine until the costs of the remediation plan can be determined.
Judge Harland stated Mr Burr “was reckless in his approach to his legal obligations because he was highly motivated to fulfill his objective, which he had had for some time, to develop the property as an adjunct to the home farm dairy operation”.
Defendant Pauline Burr pleaded guilty to three charges and has been convicted but will face no fine as this will “encourage Mrs Burr to take an active role in the management of the remediation rather than simply relying on her husband to deal with matters”, stated Judge Harland.
Defendant DR Drainage Limited pleaded guilty to four charges and was fined $21,375. The court noted that this defendant has been generally cooperative, shown remorse and changed its practices as a result of the prosecution.
“Getting such clear direction from the court for the wrongdoer to remediate this significant natural resource is an excellent result,” said the council’s investigations and complaints manager Patrick Lynch.
“This has been a protracted case for the council and we still have some way to go.
“We have been particularly concerned about the deliberate nature of the offending by Mr Burr. He chose to ignore the clear warnings given to him prior to his purchase of the property and now he is being held accountable.”
Note: The RAMSAR Convention is an inter-governmental treaty to which New Zealand is a contracting party for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. It was established with a view to stemming the progressive encroachment on, and loss of, wetlands now and in the future, and to recognise the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific and recreational values