Residents of a northern Waikato community feel hoodwinked and want an animal product processing company to leave after a "heavy stink" descended on their town.
Tuakau Proteins Limited (TPL) operates an animal by-product rendering and processing plant on Lapwood Rd in Tuakau, on the eastern bank of the Waikato River.
The company was prosecuted this year by the Waikato Regional Council for discharging odorous compounds and wastewater into the river during 2019 and this year, which breached its conditions of consent under the Resource Management Act.
A sentencing hearing was held in the Environment Court in Auckland today after TPL pleaded guilty earlier this year to several charges.
Thirteen members of the Tuakau community wrote statements to Judge Melanie Harland ahead of the proceeding, some of whom were at the hearing, including Heather McGuire.
She lives about 1.3km from TPL's 24-hour-a -day plant and on land her family has owned since 1865.
McGuire described the odour from TPL's plant, when the prevailing westerlies blow, as an "egregious heavy stink of a putrid nature".
The prospect of the smell arriving on her property was depressing, she said, and when family visited they would have "horrifying looks" on their faces.
McGuire, who is the chairwoman for a local environmental action group, said Tuakau has been plagued by the odour for much longer than this year's legal proceedings.
There had been many meetings over fixing the smell, she said, but TPL has managed to "hoodwink the community and councils" with empty promises.
"We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will do so," she said, quoting Sir David Attenborough's book A Life on Our Planet.
Other Tuakau residents described the smell as vile and soul-destroying, while also accusing TPL of trying to disguise the odour with a "sweet, sickly smell" which was as bad.
One woman, who worked at TPL for 10 years, said it was the "most disgusting and disgraceful smell I have ever smelt".
The court heard the stench was akin to rotten meat, stale water or raw sewage and had resulted in locals being physically sick and suffering throbbing headaches.
The summer months were the worst, when residents said they were forced to keep their doors and windows closed to stop the drifting smell seeping into their carpets and curtains.
"The smell is like death, like dead sheep or cattle," one resident said.
Acting for the Waikato Regional Council, lawyer Nathan Speir said TPL knew of its obligations yet had a blasé attitude towards the environmental effects.
He said there was a "lengthy history of non-compliance with this site" and commercial objectives had been placed ahead of environmental compliance.
The plant, constructed in 1972, was at capacity or certainly exceeding capacity after a "chronic underinvestment in infrastructure", he argued.
Speir said the plant is no longer fit for purpose and such an incident was "almost inevitable".
TPL's lawyer Brandon Watts said the company's culpability and the environmental impacts concerning the wastewater discharge were low but he accepted the odour was of significant concern to the community.
He said it was impractical for the plant to simply stop production on days the smell worsened, which he added may exacerbate the problem because of animal products being left in machinery.
Watts said TPL has already made a donation of $7000 to Tuakua's school and kindergarten.
After hearing part of Watt's arguments, Judge Melanie Harland adjourned today's hearing until December 8. She also indicated she would likely reserve her decision on the penalty for TPL.
Those with control over the plant, Stephen Dahlenburg, Philip Hocquard, Andrew Lowe, and Glenn Smith, have a protracted history in the animal product industry and have been involved in similar incidents, court documents obtained by the Herald show.
Charges were also laid against all four over TPL but were withdrawn by leave today.
The Lapwood Rd plant was owned by Graeme Lowe Proteins Limited, a subsidiary of Lowe Corporation Limited, a Hastings-based company specialising in the processing of animal by-products.
It was trading as Waikato By Products Ltd (WBP) until TBL was incorporated in 2014 and ownership of the plant transferred to the new company.
However, in 2008 and 2010, while trading as WBP and under the directorship of Lowe, the business was convicted of discharging objectionable odours from the plant.
The court heard today that Lowe has recently spent several months living in Tuakau to try keep the plant compliant and engage with issues raised by the community.
Smith, meanwhile, has been a director of Hawkes Bay Proteins Ltd (HBPL), which operates a rendering plant near Napier.
Lowe and Hocquard also became directors of HBPL in 2014 and under their control the company has received four infringements for objectionable odour which has resulted in charges currently before Napier District Court.
Since 1995, Smith has also been a director of Taranaki By Products, located near Stratford.
The company has been prosecuted once and has infringed 15 times for odour offending and eight time for unlawfully discharging wastewater since 2005.
Dahlenburg has been a director of Kakariki Proteins Limited in Manawatu since 2007.
In 2018 and 2002 that company was issued with abatement notices requiring it to cease unlawfully discharging odour and an abatement notice over wastewater in 2019.
In January 2015, Dahlenburg took over as TPL's plant manager, with day-to-day responsibility for the rendering operation.