Rotorua Lakes Council has denied a WorkSafe charge relating to an incident where a tourist allegedly slipped into a geothermal sinkhole near Whakarewarewa Village and suffered serious injuries.
The case was called as part of a Rotorua Registrar’s hearing on Wednesday, and a lawyer acting for the council, Drisana Sheely, entered a not-guilty plea on the council’s behalf.
The council is charged with failing in its duty and thereby exposing an individual to the risk of death or serious injury in July last year. The charge carries a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
The case will next be called in the Rotorua District Court on March 27 for a case review hearing.
Two alleged victims named in the charging documents have been granted continued interim name suppression.
Details on the charging document show the alleged offending occurred between July 16 and July 29 last year.
The offence description alleges the council, having a duty to ensure, as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of other people, namely tourists at the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village on Wahiao Dr, was not put at risk as part of its business or undertaking, namely maintaining and servicing public roads, and failed to comply with the duty. It further said that failure exposed others to a risk of death or serious injury.
The charging document alleges it was reasonably practicable for the council to have done three things. These included ensuring an adequate assessment of the site was carried out, including involving a geothermal expert, appropriate testing and inspection of the site and surrounding area; ensuring the site was adequately monitored following the site visit on July 19, 2022; and fencing the site to prevent access while testing and monitoring was carried out.
Media reported at the time a woman was seriously injured on July 28 after a fumarole, or sinkhole, opened at the entrance of Whakarewarewa Village, past the bridge over Puarenga Stream.
It was reported at the time a man received moderate injuries while trying to pull a woman from the sinkhole.
Fumaroles are openings in the earth’s surface that emit steam and volcanic gases, such as sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.
Kelly Makiha is a senior journalist who has reported for the Rotorua Daily Post for more than 25 years, covering mainly police, court, human interest and social issues.