Bill Shepherd has pleaded guilty to discharging untreated farm dairy wastewater and contravening an abatement notice when he was chairman of the Northland Regional Council, the region's chief environment watchdog.
The immediate past NRC chairman admitted in the Environment Court in Whangārei to breaching the Resource Management Act 1991 by discharging untreated and partially treated wastewater from a broken pipe and a feed pad pond on to land in circumstances which may have resulted in the contaminant entering an unnamed tributary of the Wairau River.
According to court documents, the offences happened in July and August 2019. Shepherd stood for re-election to the NRC in October, but missed out.
The 75-year-old and his company Shepherd Farms Ltd each face three charges of discharging a contaminant at his Purua farm while the latter is facing an additional charge of contravening an abatement notice.
The charge of discharging a contaminant attracts a fine not exceeding $300,000 while the maximum penalty for contravening an abatement notice is $600,000.
Shepherd said his lawyer has instructed him not to comment while the matter was before the court. His sharemilker Robert Phillip and Phillip Farms Ltd also pleaded guilty to seven charges of a similar nature. They will all be sentenced on September 18.
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Shepherd was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for services to hockey and farming after he was first elected NRC chairman in 2013.
NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall said Shepherd and his company were cautioned during the course of the council's investigation that they were liable to prosecution under the Act.
He said a decision to prosecute Shepherd was made in September last year — before the local government election day on October 12 when the latter was still the chairman.
Dall said decisions on potential prosecutions were made at staff level under NRC's delegation, as was the case for most regional councils.
"The decision was then vetted by the council's lawyer in accordance with the council's standard procedures for prosecutions,'' Dall said.
"The council's lawyer confirmed that the case was sound enough to proceed. Council staff then finalised the evidence documents for the prosecutions before laying the associated charges, also in accordance with the council's standard procedures.
"There was some delay in laying the charges because the council's lawyer was heavily committed in other legal matters she was dealing with at the time."
Shepherd served two terms and was re-elected unopposed in 2016, then as chairman again by his fellow councillors, before he was pipped at the ballot box by only 38 votes in last year's election.
He then filed papers in the High Court at Whangārei, seeking a review of the NRC election result for the Coastal North constituency, only to later withdraw it.
In the late 80s, Shepherd chaired the steering group that established the Northland province of Federated Farmers and he served as its first president.
He represented Northland in the dairy section and later became senior vice-chairman of the New Zealand dairy section and national senior vice-president.
Shepherd also served on the Minister of Agriculture's animal welfare advisory committee.