The Environment Court has issued the builder of Transmission Gully with a $70,000 fine following a prosecution over four earthworks-related charges.
It's the latest development in what is becoming an increasingly woeful environmental track record for the $1.25 billion road.
The four-lane motorway is being built through a public-private partnership (PPP), the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP), with CPB Contractors and HEB Construction sub-contracted to carry out the design and construction.
A review undertaken by Te Waihanga, the Infrastructure Commission, found the price of the road was set far too low to begin with, as well as what Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson called "less than ideal consenting risk management".
As of May this year there had been 223 consent breaches, failures/incidents, and unconsented activities at the troubled Transmission Gully site, with a further 44 still under investigation at that time.
The Herald obtained the figures under the Local Government Official Information Act from Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), the regulator, whose resources have been stretched dealing with the "significant" number of breaches.
The offences include sediment discharges into local streams, unapproved works, and slips.
By May, GWRC had issued $37,500 worth of fines, as well as 50 infringement notices and 41 formal warnings over Transmission Gully's environmental impacts.
The council has only pursued prosecution in one case against CPB HEB JV, which was before the Environment Court today for sentencing.
Four charges were laid in relation to track earthworks undertaken in May 2019, which resulted in material entering the river beds of Duck Creek and Cannons Creek.
The works at Belmont Regional Park, which the two creeks run through, involved access track-widening and fencing.
GWRC's lawyer Andrew Britton said the streams were not just affected by fine sediment, but rocks and boulders going down the hillside.
He said the JV did not take steps to mitigate what happened or alert the council to something being wrong until days after the fact.
"The attitude of the JV appears to have been careless or cavalier."
But CPB HEB JV lawyer Hamish Harwood argued 95 per cent of the unstabilised area was covered in coconut matting by early June.
An "all hands to the task approach" was undertaken including the use of helicopters, so to suggest the JV was "slack" is not supported by these events, he said.
Harwood said the JV took very seriously the criticism of having a cavalier approach to the Resource Management Act and firmly rejected that characterisation.
Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer was also the chairman of the Board of Inquiry that considered consents for Transmission Gully a decade ago.
He said they were given "all sorts of assurances" about how properly the work would be done.
Dwyer particularly noted that the two streams involved fed into some of the most sensitive water bodies in the region, if not the country, like Pauatahanui Inlet.
He said these water bodies were of "major significance and are widely recognised as being vulnerable to the effects of sedimentation."
Dwyer placed significant weight on this issue in his ruling today.
He said the potential for the inlets to be adversely affected by earthworks in conjunction with the Transmission Gully project was well known when the resource consents were granted.
In this case, the direct adverse effects of these discharges were minor, but the concern for the court was the cumulative affect of minor sedimentation discharges, Dwyer said.
He spread the total $70,000 fine evenly over the four charges, meaning the fine for each one was $17,500.
CPB HEB JV initially pleaded not guilty but entered guilty pleas 18 months after the charges were first brought.
This was after a failed application to have the charges dismissed.
In a statement after the sentencing, GWRC environmental regulation team leader James Snowdon said any sediment getting into a stream can damage an ecosystem.
"In this case, sediment will ultimately end up in the Pauatahanui Inlet. Before any work starts operators should talk to the regional council about permitted activities and the need for consents.
"The work that led to this prosecution fell far below our expectations of an experienced commercial operator. While this case has taken over two years to get through court - those who don't want to stick to the rules should take note that we will follow through with our cases and hold offenders to account."