A Bay of Plenty company in the business of converting pastoral land into kiwifruit orchards admitted failing to ensure it complied with the RMA. Sandra Conchie reports
A Bay of Plenty firm has been fined nearly $50,000 for discharging sediment-laden stormwater from its earthworks site, some of which ended up in a protected wetland.
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Baygold Holdings Limited (Baygold) was sentenced in the Environment Court this week by Judge Melinda Dickey after the company earlier pleaded guilty to two representative charges of contravening the Resource Management Act.
Baygold was convicted for failing to adhere to a Bay of Plenty Regional Council rule by carrying out earthworks that breached the conditions of its resource consent.
It was also convicted for discharging a contaminant (namely sediment-laden stormwater) on to land in circumstances where it may enter a waterway.
Both charges attract a fine of up to $600,000.
Baygold was granted a resource consent in March 2018 to undertake earthworks to convert 16.7ha on the northern end of the Matata straights into a large kiwifruit orchard.
The consent conditions included making sure no stormwater was discharged off-site during the works and all sediment-contaminated water discharged to ground soakage.
The regional council prosecution relates to discharges of sediment-laden stormwater from Baygold's earthworks site near State Highway 2, Pikowai in 2018, which flowed overland and entered the Ōtamarākau Wetland in two locations.
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Water from the wetland flows into Ōtamarākau Stream, then into the nearby sea.
During a council inspection of the site on July 23, 2018, the officer noted two sediment ponds specified in the resource consent had not been constructed.
A large amount of sediment had also run off on to the access track next to the property.
The officer revisited the site several times between August 7 and August 14, 2018.
On August 7 the inspector noted erosion and sediment controls were not in line with the resource consent, and deep channels had formed within the site due to recent rainfall.
Some of the contaminated stormwater water had flowed along an access road and SH2 and into the wetland.
A week later the officer also saw some of this water had flowed straight across SH2 and into a drain which ended up in the wetland on the eastern side of the highway.
The regional council's lawyer, Adam Hopkinson, argued that Baygold had been "careless or reckless" in not making sure it kept to its consent conditions.
Hopkinson submitted a fine starting point of $80,000 was appropriate given the harm caused, before discounts were allowed for early guilty pleas.
Baygold's lawyer, Lara Burkhardt, argued the council's starting point was too high, and $50,000 to $60,000 was more appropriate.
Baygold accepted it was "too passive" in the early stages of the earthworks to prevent the risk of these discharges, but it had taken "significant remedial steps", she said.
Judge Dickey said Baygold acted responsibly in obtaining resource consent, but "fell down" by not adhering to the consent conditions.
"It [Baygold] did not approach with sufficient urgency problems that had been identified with regard to the non-construction of the detention ponds, and was caught short when problems began to manifest themselves."
Judge Dickey said the effects on the environment from this offending were "moderate" and she declined to give the defendant any discount for cleaning up the sediment.
"Clean-up would not have been required if the resource consent had been complied with. The defendant did nothing more than remedy an unsatisfactory situation."
Judge Dickey fined Baygold $49, 875 and ordered 90 per cent of the fine to be paid to the regional council.