Fines issued to the builders of Transmission Gully over environmental breaches are being labelled a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket and insufficient to act as a deterrent.
Yesterday the Herald revealed there have been a whopping 167 consent breaches, incidents/failures, and unconsented activities at the troubled Transmission Gully site.
The billion-dollar-road is being built through a public-private partnership, the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP), with CPB Contractors and HEB Construction sub-contracted to carry out the design and construction.
CPB HEB JV has been issued with 21 infringement notices with fines totalling $15,750, as well as 23 formal warnings and 16 advice letters relating to Transmission Gully and surrounding sites.
Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter said the fines were "a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket".
Processes in place for big construction projects needed to be reviewed, including the emphasis put on the environment through the tender process and the credibility of organisations who were putting themselves forward, he said.
But the regional council, as the regulator, needed to have "more teeth too", he said.
"If the regional council truly is the environmental protection agency, then lets act like one and be a little bit more heavy handed in the fines that we either hand out or seek through the court system because clearly the message isn't getting through."
"Are we keeping our foot on the pedal with these organisations that quite frankly should know better? They're being paid hundreds of millions of dollars to do this type of work and the environment cannot be the casualty of their failings."
Ponter said the Resource Management Act's fines regime was due for an overhaul.
Environment Minister David Parker said the Government recognised fines and penalties under the RMA were often insufficient to act as a deterrent.
The current infringement regulations have been in place for 20 years, remaining largely unchanged.
"The Government is working to improve our resource management system, which costs too much, takes too long and does not protect the environment", Parker said.
The Resource Management Amendment Bill is currently before the House, which includes a proposed increase in maximum infringement fees.
The infringement fines councils can impose would increase from $300 to $2000 for individuals and from $1000 to $4000 for companies.
The Bill would also extend the current six month statutory limitation period for taking prosecutions to 12 months, and give powers to the Environmental Protection Authority enforcement unit to assist councils in investigating incidents.
Since the end of 2014, the regional council has only pursued one prosecution over Transmission Gully.
Meanwhile, a comprehensive review of the RMA is underway and Parker expected a report back by the end of the month outlining a proposal for reform.
The adequacy of fines and penalties at prosecution is included in its scope.
In reaction to the revelations at Transmission Gully, Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said environmental harm is serious and those causing it should pay the price.
"Chasing the lowest-price option means construction companies cut costs and undercut each other so intensely that some projects became financially unviable."
Genter said new Government Procurement Rules introduced last year was a step in the right direction and meant future projects would be evaluated on a broader outcome model rather than just their price.
NZTA senior manager Vanessa Browne said environmental management performance and system accreditation were already taken into account in the assessment for pre qualification of physical works contractors.
"At a minimum, contractual requirements would typically include proactive management of compliance with statutory approvals, and the preparation, implementation and monitoring of management plans to mitigate environmental effects.
"Depending on the complexity and nature of the project, there are also often requirements to nominate an Environmental Manager and demonstrate that they have sufficient resource and capability to appropriately manage environmental effects of the project."