A dairy farm company and its director have been fined a total of $41,000 for the illegal discharge of effluent into Hunters Creek, which links to Tauranga Harbour.
JAG Farms Ltd and its director John Ian Gardiner were sentenced in Tauranga District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to one breach each under the Resource Management Act.
JAG Farms and Gardiner each pleaded guilty to a charge that they permitted a contaminant to discharge on to land or into land from an effluent pond which resulted in the discharge entering a significant wetland waterway.
The maximum penalty for the company is a fine of up to $600,000 and for an individual $300,000.
The offence occurred on or around November 30, 2011, less than a week after a renewed effluent discharge consent was issued to JAG Farms.
JAG Farms has leased a dairy farm at Matakana Island for a number of years, which is owned by Maori Trusts. Gardiner is a director and shareholder of the company and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the farm which at the time of the offence was milking 360 cows.
The farm's two effluent ponds are about 500m from Hunters Creek and a section of the creek near the farm is classified as a coastal habitat preservation zone in the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environment Plan.
When a council officer went to check the size of the farm's two effluent ponds on November 30, 2011, he noticed effluent overflowing from the first pond, and flowing overland to a drain, which ended up Hunters Creek.
The second effluent pond was larger but the pipe between the two ponds was blocked and an irrigation line was overgrown with grass. Sampling of the discharge showed high levels of faecal contamination in the farm drain.
When Gardiner arrived during the inspection he confirmed that he was aware the pond was full and needing pumping.
The regional council's lawyer Adam Hopkinson told Judge Jeff Smith that this was a moderately serious offence, particularly in light of Gardiner's three earlier warnings after compliance checks in 2003, 2006 and 2010.
Mr Hopkinson said he was not saying the breach was deliberate but given the aggravating factors, including the previous warnings, a fine starting at $60,000 for the company was appropriate and a lesser fine for Gardiner.
The defendants' lawyer Timothy Richardson argued that the fine should be much less as the offence was unintentional and remedial steps were taken soon after the offending came to light.
Judge Smith told Gardiner that it was clear that the pond system he had been using was inadequate if it overflowed within three to four milkings as his lawyer suggested.
The judge said there needed to be a clear deterrent message that it was a farmer's responsibility to ensure effluent ponds are regularly checked and farm systems adequately maintained. But Judge Smith said to avoid "double jeopardy" he would reduce the fine imposed on Gardiner from the $36,000 fine imposed on the company due to his financial position.