A Castlecliff couple who drive Heads Rd and smell the Affco Imlay meatworks feel like it's them keeping the company in line - rather than Horizons Regional Council.
Horizons CEO Michael McCartney admits his compliance staff are overworked and said he intends to talk to councillors about getting more.
When Lyn Pearson rings Horizons in Palmerston North about a bad smell from the meatworks it's gone before staff can arrive, if they come at all. And during the hearing into a renewal of Affco's consent to discharge to air in 2017, Lyn and husband Graham heard the company had not been complying with conditions set by the previous consent.
A whole lot of things had never been upgraded and they hadn't been checked out or insisted on by Horizons, they claimed.
"It's as though we have got to be the policeman and Horizons should really be checking up on what they're doing," Lyn Pearson said.
The Pearsons went to Palmerston North for Horizons' May 14 environment committee meeting to voice their frustration that their messages to the council's Pollution Hotline get no response.
"I haven't heard of anyone they have actually got back to," Lyn Pearson said.
McCartney said calls to that pollution line have increased in the past three years and that's a good thing.
"We really need people letting us know what's happening."
But McCartney there are so many that staff have to prioritise what they respond to.
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Sometimes they are called in to settle disputes neighbours could have resolved themselves.
"There tends to be less desire to go and knock on the door and say 'Hey mate, can you not do that'."
The council has 10 compliance and seven consent staff, and three administrators to help them. That's 0.04 compliance staff per 1000 people in the region - a low total compared with other regional councils, but not as low as Greater Wellington Regional Council's 0.03.
Councillors at the August 13 environment committee meeting discussed whether it would be more efficient to employ contractors for compliance. McCartney doesn't favour that.
"In my personal view, compliance is core business for a regional council. It's not something we should contract out."
Overall, Horizons also has fewer staff per head of population than other regional councils. The average is 1.2 staff members per 1000 population and the highest is 1.7. Horizons is at 0.9, making it "lean", McCartney said.
Its compliance staff tend to specialise in areas such as dairy effluent, earthworks or investigations leading to prosecution. It's not an easy job.
"It's bloody hard work and I admire them for what they do," McCartney said.
Most people react well to being "told off", but some become abusive or even violent. There's been no violence recently, but a person did attack a vehicle staff members were sitting in.
An independent report on regional councils and compliance found Horizons had one of New Zealand's lowest resourcing levels for compliance.
The last attempt by councillors Nicola Patrick and Rachel Keedwell to get more compliance resource was voted down by their peers.
Patrick said the council's compliance staff do a really good job of prioritising.
"But they just can't get to some things, and some of them are things people in Whanganui see every day - like oily slicks in small streams feeding the river."
The report also found Horizons made less use of the enforcement tools available, such as fines and prosecutions.
But prosecutions are expensive, McCartney said, and you need a good case.
"I know the public sometimes feel we are going too soft. But often the case is not strong enough and the money is better spent getting action on the ground."
An environment committee agenda lists compliance action over the past three months.
It includes several infringement and abatement notices to SDG Horopito Ltd for unauthorised earthworks and discharge of contaminants to land, and infringement and abatement notices to Eastown Timber Processors for discharge of dust beyond its boundary.
Forest 360 Ltd and John Turkington Ltd both got abatement notices over forestry earthworks. And Higgins Contractors was served a region-wide abatement notice to cease unauthorised land disturbance.
That was about the contractor's management of sediment and run-off, McCartney said.
"That went all the way to the top. If they breach again it will go to the next level."