$15k fine as firm blames urban creep

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Te Mata Mushroom Company director Michael Whittaker.
Te Mata Mushroom Company director Michael Whittaker.

Te Mata Mushroom Company's director believes his farm came into the crossfire as a result of "urban creep".

Michael Whittaker told Hawke's Bay Today his farm had been operating at the Brookvale Rd site in Havelock North for 48 years.

The company had charges brought against it midway through last year, after smelly discharges were reported between March and April.

Yesterday it was fined $15,000 for failing to fix an odour problem, after pleading guilty to one representative charge of discharging offensive and objectionable odour. The maximum penalty for that type of offending is $600,000.

The company was sentenced by Judge Craig Thompson, who appeared by audio visual link during Environmental Court which sat at Hastings District Court.

Following the case, Mr Whittaker said the company was pleased the court process was now finished.

"We're disappointed we were charged in the first place."

He said compost was needed when mushrooms were grown, and some odour was given off. It was when the wind blew east that the odour picked up over the residential area.

"We've worked as diligently as we could to control the odour but we can't control the weather."

The owner said the farm had operated as it did for decades and it was through council decisions to allow urban creep which had caused a "classic case of reverse sensitivity".

Through the court the company was issued an enforcement order directing them to submit a draft of a new resource consent application by October 1, and a final application by December 20. The new resource consent will include conditions addressing odour issues and ways it will be controlled.

It will also include ways the local community and the company will communicate with each other if issues arise.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council issued a statement saying they were looking forward to seeing the detail of plans by Te Mata Mushrooms to solve the odour problem.

Council's manager of resource use, Wayne Wright, said yesterday's outcome highlighted the seriousness of failing to comply with the conditions of a resource consent and the importance of council perusing a prosecution for the breach.

"HBRC is not in the business of putting people out of business, but as the regulator, it must carefully balance the economic needs of the region, with the rights of local residents to have an enjoyable environment to live in."

Mr Wright said while the odour issue would not be fixed immediately, the new consent application would be noted and the community would have an opportunity to have their say on the issue.

The mushroom growers and compost suppliers would need to expand to bring in more money in order to mitigate the odour issue fully, Mr Whittaker said.

He said their biggest competitor produced about 180 tonnes of mushrooms while they only put out about 20 tonnes.

Mr Whittaker said it had been a stressful time for his 120 staff who would be thankful they still had jobs.

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