Six companies responsible for a toxic dump site at Ruakākā have been ordered by the Environment Court to pay almost $2.7 million towards the $3 million clean-up costs.
Whangārei District Council (WDC) stumped up $1m last year to clean up the site at Allis Bloy Pl in Ruakākā, where about 800,000 litres of chemicals and 400,000 litres of bund water were stored.
Ministry for the Environment gave $2m, WDC $1m, WorkSafe and EPA $150,000 each and the Northland Regional Council $50,000 towards the clean-up costs.
They were forced to do it after companies and individuals responsible for the untidy state of the site failed to take action despite orders from the Environment Court.
The court orders were against Sustainable Solvents Group and Sustainable Solvents director Brian Smith, Sustainable Solvents Ltd, and Auckland-based Solvent Services New Zealand directors John Manus Pretorius and Aaron Baldwin.
WDC took the matter back to the Environment Court seeking determination of liability and recovery of costs against all six respondents.
The clean-up cost $3,053,090.55, but the council sought costs of $2,656,223.29. There have been no costs recovered by the council as no materials from the site were salvageable.
In a decision released this week, the court found that the six were liable for costs.
''I conclude that the majority of costs should be borne by the First to Third Respondents (Sustainable Solvents Group; Sustainable Solvents Ltd and Brian Smith) jointly and severally. I conclude that 70 per cent is appropriate to record their contribution to the costs incurred. This leaves the balance of 30 per cent to be borne by the Fourth to Sixth Respondents (Solvent Services NZ; John Pretorius and Aaron Baldwin) jointly and severally,'' Environment Judge Jeff Smith said.
''Accordingly, I conclude that costs should be ordered for the $2,656,223.29 to be paid as follows:
(a) the First, Second and Third Respondents are jointly and severally liable to pay 70 per cent of the costs and expenses sought, being $1,859,356.00;
(b) the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Respondents are jointly and severally liable to pay 30 per cent of the costs and expenses sought being $796,866.00;
(c) these cost orders may be enforced in the District Court at Whangārei as necessary.''
WDC submitted that while the six respondents were not commercial "partners" at the time the earlier court orders were made, the conglomeration of waste materials on site was part of a joint enterprise.
The situation created a toxic site which WDC and other regulatory agencies were reluctantly forced to step in and incur considerable public expenditure in the process, and clean up the mess the Respondents had created.
''I consider all six respondents bear responsibility for the orders having to be made, the problems were cumulatively created by all six respondents,'' Judge Smith said.
''The court accepts that problems at the site existed before the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Respondents became involved. The Fourth to Sixth Respondents became involved in the site from April 2015. I accept that they came to a problem and were seeking to help with the site. However, intention is not enough to excuse liability. I note that they came to the problem knowing that remediation may be required, and they contributed to the problems on site. I consider the actions of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Respondents contributed to the need for clean up of the site.''
Solvents were stored in old, damaged, rusty and leaking drums and containers on the property, posing significant risks to the environment.
The initial resource consent was granted to Sustainable Waste Management (SWM) in June 2008 to store up to 50,000 litres of solvents and chemicals in conjunction with the operation of a recycling plant.
That land was subdivided and the area to which the resource consent applied was transferred to Sustainable Solvents.
Separate consents granted by the NRC to SWM for discharge to air were later transferred to Sustainable Solvents. No consents have been granted in respect of discharges on to land or into water.
The Environment Court issued interim and later final enforcement orders against Sustainable Solvents Group, Sustainable Solvents and its owner, Brian Smith, Solvent Services New Zealand and its directors, John Manus Pretorius and Aaron Baldwin.
They ignored the order and the court then granted consent to WDC to remove the waste and bill the owners, with the Environment Court now making the costs orders.
■ How or whether the costs will be recovered are yet to be determined.