A Northland farm owner has been fined $54,000 – and his farm manager $10,000 – for offences relating to dairy effluent discharges at an Awarua farm.
Kerikeri man Mervyn James Pinny had denied 16 charges laid against him by the Northland Regional Council relating to a farm he owns at Awarua, about 13km south of Kaikohe.
He defended the charges before Environment Court Judge Gordon Whiting with the case heard in the Whangarei District Court over several days in December last year and January this year.
In a reserved judgment delivered recently, Judge Whiting convicted Pinny of four of the 16 charges the regional council had laid against him. The judge dismissed him without conviction on the remaining charges, which he ruled had effectively been alternatives to those he had convicted Pinny of.
Meanwhile, Pinny’s farm manager, Hugh Raymond Bolton, who lives on the Awarua property, had earlier admitted three charges relating to the same incidents when he appeared in the Whangarei District Court in June 2010.
On Wednesday last week (subs: Weds 27 April) Judge Whiting fined Pinny $30,000 – and Bolton $5000 - for offending relating to effluent discharges from an irrigator between 01 and 16 October 2009. The offending resulted in effluent discharging into an unnamed tributary of Te Ruakokupu Stream, as well as ponding at least 40cm deep in several depressions on the farm.
Pinny was fined another $10,000 – and Bolton $1000 – for similar offending relating to the same irrigator in a different position on 16 October 2009.
For offending relating to a cow standing pad – during which large volumes of effluent flowed into a neighbouring ditch and again reached a tributary of Te Ruakokupu Stream - between 08 and 16 October 2009, Pinny was fined $14,000 and Bolton $4000.
For a fourth offence relating to an abatement notice, Pinny was convicted and discharged without penalty.
Judge Whiting also imposed court costs and directed that 90% of the fines be paid to the regional council.
In his decision, Judge Whiting said owners of dairy farm properties could not lightly escape their responsibilities “by a contract of employment or agency”.
Owners of dairy farms were responsible for infrastructure, which included any effluent disposal systems and they held the resource consents required to operate those systems.
“As the owner and holder of any resource consent, they should be aware of the consequences of an effluent system that is inadequate, or which is not operated appropriately. As the owner, they have the authority to intervene. They have the responsibility to intervene.”
The regional council says the judge’s decisions and fines send another clear message to dairy farmers that protecting water quality is important and effluent needs to be treated and managed in accordance with the law.
Operations Director Tony Phipps says prosecution is usually a last resort for the regional council, however, sometimes it was left with little option.
“In this case, there was a prolonged period of alleged effluent-related offending leading up to the decision to take the matter to court. Mr Pinny was given plenty of chances and warnings…some would say too many.”
“This case is all the more disappointing because Mr Pinny is a very experienced farmer who I understand owns or operates more than a dozen Northland dairy and beef farms,” he says.
Mr Phipps says abatement notices had been issued over alleged offences at the Awarua property in September 2006, in September 2007 and again in November 2008.
Similarly, an infringement notice (effectively $750 instant fine) had also been issued in September 2007 and another three notices in November the following year.