A farm worker was sentenced in the Environment Court in Tauranga after admitting he breached a resource consent condition. Sandra Conchie reports.
A Bay of Plenty farm worker has been fined $5000 after he admitted unlawfully discharging dairy effluent which ended up in two streams.
Graeme Willacy pleaded guilty to a charge of discharging a contaminant onto or into land in circumstances where it may enter a waterway in the Environment Court in Tauranga yesterday. The charge attracts a maximum fine of $300,000 or two years' prison.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council prosecution related to dairy effluent discharging from a travelling irrigator Willacy had set up in a farm paddock in Yankee Rd, Rerewhakaaitu on October 4, 2018, the court heard.
Willacy turned the irrigator on about 10am that day but did not go back to check if it was working properly.
Willacy was in a hurry when he set up the irrigator because he wanted to help another farm worker with a cow in difficulty, the court heard.
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When the regional council's enforcement inspector carried out a routine compliance inspection about 1.30pm that day, he noted a small stream nearby was discoloured.
The stream was a spring-fed tributary of the Awaroa Stream and was flowing at the time.
When the officer approached the travelling irrigator he saw it was no longer operating but had recently been running parallel to a riparian area containing the tributary stream.
The nearest nozzle of the irrigator was 4m from the riparian area and 14m from the tributary stream and a small amount of effluent ponded around the irrigator.
The effluent had channelled, in low points of the paddock, towards the stream prior to where the irrigator had ceased operating.
The effluent discharge affected both the tributary stream and the Awaroa Stream.
Water quality samples revealed high levels of faecal coliforms and E. coli.
Awaroa Stream is an ephemeral stream within the Lake Rerewhakaaitu catchment about 1.5km from the farm.
The lake is a habitat and migratory pathway for indigenous fish species, namely common smelt, and an important habitat for trout and threatened species of water birds.
The court heard that Willacy had not seen the resource consent which specified a minimum distance that the irrigator could operate from a watercourse was 20m.
Adam Hopkinson, the regional council's lawyer, argued a deterrent sentence was required given the significant environmental effects to two watercourses.
While the council accepted this was not deliberate offending the level of carelessness and non-compliance warranted a fine of $17,000, with no more than 35 per cent discounts for the guilty plea and personal mitigating factors, he said.
Willacy's lawyer, Ken Patterson, argued that the council's starting point was too high.
"I characterise this offending as a human error oversight not a deliberate act of menace."
Patterson also argued the environment effects were "relatively minor" and sought 40 per cent discounts for Willacy's guilty plea, remorse and his previous good character.
Willacy had limited means to pay a fine, he said.
Judge Melanie Harland said she accepted Willacy's actions were due to carelessness at the "very lowest scale" and he was genuinely remorseful.
"However, I disagree with your legal counsel that the environmental effects were minor.
"But I am persuaded that you did not understand the likely results of your actions which have clearly impacted over that time on two water bodies," the judge said.
Judge Harland said she was also prepared to take into account Willacy's limited financial means and had taken a compassionate approach by imposing a fine of $5000.
She ordered 90 per cent of the fine to be paid to the regional council.
Judge Harland urged Willacy to view this prosecution as a "learning experience" and share it with others in the industry.
Another employee at the farm and the farm's owners, Rerewhakaaitu Farm Ltd, are defending the same charge.