Third West Coast councillor pinged for breaching mining rules

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star

Photo / File
Photo / File

A third West Coast regional councillor has been fined for breaching the council's own mining rules, only a month after another councillor appeared in court.

Cr Ian Cummings' company has been slapped with two infringement notices and an abatement for goldmining at Notown, and a council investigation is ongoing.

Fellow councillor Allan Birchfield, who owns the Grey River dredge, is currently being prosecuted by the Department of Conservation for allegedly mining illegally, and two years ago Cr Bryan Chinn received an infringement notice relating to the mining pollution of a creek at Ross.

Cr Cummings is currently overseas and could not be reached for comment.

However, council chairman Ross Scarlett this morning accepted "it doesn't look good".

The Greymouth Star asked the West Coast Regional Council under the Official Information Act for details about a mine found operating without consent at Notown, in the Grey Valley.

The council revealed the operator as Amalgamated Mining Ltd, a small to medium-sized operation with a single screen and two operators. Cr Cummings is listed as the director.

On August 21, Amalgamated Mining was fined a $500 infringement notice for the unauthorised diversion of a creek. It was also fined a $750 notice for discharging sediment-laden water into Ongionui Creek.

On December 17, the company received an abatement notice to cease all discharges that contravened national standards or other regulations and rules.

"Further investigations are ongoing at this point in time," the council said in a written response.

Cr Scarlett said the public had a right to expect "people to abide by the rules, particularly people who represent them; that goes without saying".

He said MPs also had indiscretions, "which was only human", but those in the spotlight had to be vigilant.

The regional council has repeatedly attracted attention for the conduct of its councillors, most of whom are involved in either mining or farming:

* In December, Cr Birchfield pleaded not guilty to nine charges under the Conservation Act. Each charge carries a maximum fine of $80,000. Charges include operating without authority, illegally creating a settling pond in the Grey River, operating in the marginal strip of the Blackball Creek, interfering with natural features in Blackball Creek, and taking plants from Blackball Creek and the Grey River.

* In November, a bid by Cr Birchfield to move the dredge downstream was rejected, partly due to concerns that 48 sets of vital council monitoring data were missing. A council-appointed commissioner also noted Cr Birchfield had refused to apply for consents from the Grey District Council.

* In April 2011, regional council deputy chairman Bryan Chinn and a Ross goldmining company were both hit with an infringement notice for polluting a creek. Cr Chinn, who also chairs the council's Resource Management Committee, owns land immediately south of Ross that was being mined for gold by BRM Ltd.

* Also in 2011, Crs Birchfield and Cummings sat in the Greymouth District Court public gallery immediately behind Derek Newton, who the council had prosecuted under the Resource Management Act for illegal erosion protection work on the Taramakau River, near Jacksons.

Cr Cummings told the Greymouth Star at the time the council prosecution had made a criminal of a farmer who was only trying to protect his land.

The council also attracted the attention of former Environment Minister Nick Smith, when councillors resolved that they would decide on whether or not to prosecute.

In most councils, following advice from the Auditor-General, council staff make those decisions.

- The Greymouth Star

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