An Eastern Bay of Plenty holiday park and its owner have been fined a total of $42,000 for illegal earthworks and illegal vegetation clearance in native sand dunes at Thornton Beach.
Thornton Beach Holiday Park Limited and its owner, David John Edwards, each pleaded guilty to two Resource Management Act offences brought by Bay of Plenty Regional Council for clearing sand dunes between May 11, 2012 and August 10, 2012. They were sentenced by Judge Melanie Harland last week.
The company bought the 3.1ha holiday park in 2006 and in May 2008 Mr Edwards indicated to Whakatane District Council he was interested in leasing another 5ha of reserve on the western side of the holiday park so he could expand the holiday park.
Some of the reserve area had previously been used as a sand mine, but about 1.6ha of the reserve was heavily vegetated native sand dunes that was part of the nationally significant Otamarakau-Matata-Whakatane Dunes complex.
An ecological assessment obtained by Mr Edwards in 2008 identified that his proposed extension would involve levelling the natural formation of the native sand dunes, clearing the indigenous vegetation, and breaching a number of the objectives and policies of the Regional Coastal Plan.
In October 2009 Mr Edwards lodged a resource consent application to extend the holiday park over the reserve land for caravan sites, 50 powered camping sites, 10 accommodation units, 20 re-locatable homes, staff accommodation, ablution blocks and associated buildings. Local iwi and Department of Conservation objected to the consent application.
DOC was concerned about Mr Edwards' expansion plans because the area was covered in indigenous vegetation, the native sand dunes were part of a nationally significant natural dune ecosystem and said it was important that this area of dune system be left intact as one of the best examples of coastal dune ecosystem remaining in the Bay of Plenty.
Any development or changes to the coastal dune system could compromise the stability of the dune formation and make the area susceptible to adverse weather, particularly during storm events, DOC said.
Because of the objections, Mr Edwards modified his consent application to exclude the native sand dunes and the consent was granted.
Between May 11 and August 10, 2012 the defendants arranged for all vegetation in a 1.5ha area of the adjacent native sand dunes to be cleared by a bulldozer, levelling the native sand dune area.
When spoken to later by council officers Mr Edwards said he cleared the native sand dunes because it was a fire risk and it was not pleasing to look at, detracting from the camping areas that he had opened up behind it.
In sentencing Mr Edwards and his company, Judge Harland adopted for a starting point of $70,000 and applied deductions for previous good character and remorse, remediation work the defendants had agreed to carry out and the defendants' prompt guilty pleas.
Judge Harland described the environmental effects of the offending as severe and dramatic. She said that the offending was deliberate and the defendants' culpability was high.
In February the Whakatane District Council and the defendants entered into a Dune Management Area Restoration Agreement to restore the area over eight years to re-establish the native plants.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Pollution Prevention team leader Steve Pickles said people needed to contact both the regional and local councils before embarking on any land clearance projects to find out if they needed a consent.
"These penalties should send out a strong deterrent message to the community that unlawful earthworks or vegetation clearance will be treated by the Courts as serious offending," Mr Grogan said.
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