A Mamaranui dairy farmer has been fined $20,000 for what the sentencing judge described as one of the most serious and persistent cases of dairy effluent pollution he had seen.
Reuben Paul Hayes was sentenced in the Whangarei District Court recently after admitting a charge of discharging a contaminant (animal effluent) into a tributary of the Taita Stream in November last year. The charge was laid by the Northland Regional Council.
Fining Hayes $20,000 and court costs of $130, sentencing judge CJ Thompson said the fine would have been significantly higher but for Hayes’ “tight, if not critical” financial position.
“I have to say that this is as serious and persistent a case of dairy pollution as I have seen.”
Judge Thompson said with about 250,000 cows on Northland’s roughly 1150 dairy farms, “the message needs to be clear that clean dairying is the requirement; it is not optional”.
The court heard Hayes purchased the farm in July 2005 and soon after increased its carrying capacity from about 300 or 400 cows to about 600. A Regional Council inspection in September revealed a broken pipe which meant effluent was discharging straight into a tributary of the Taita Stream rather than an effluent pond.
An abatement and infringement notice were issued and although the pipe was repaired, a follow-up inspection in November revealed it had a blockage and effluent was still discharging to the stream and Hayes was given notice to fix it.
The judge said a year after the initial inspection, another examination revealed the same pipe had broken again and once more untreated effluent was being discharged, grossly polluting the stream.
Hayes was given notice to carry out urgent repairs. Two months later, another inspection revealed yet another break, again discharging untreated effluent into the stream.
A summary of facts showed that even 900 metres downstream “effluent solids were still visible in the water and the stream was grossly polluted and odorous”.
The judge said it was impossible to accept that Hayes was not aware of the problem and his responsibilities to do something effective about it.
“He may not have intended to set out to pollute this water but he was certainly reckless in his attitude towards it. He had to have had an efficient and safe system for disposing of the effluent from 600 cows and he simply did not focus on doing that.”
The judge noted an inspection by the Regional Council in June this year had identified several problems that Hayes assured him had since been attended to and his system was now in good shape.
“I hope that it is, because if it should be that it is not and there is still pollution being caused, then a further prosecution will likely bring about results that he would find most unwelcome.”
Judge Thompson gave Hayes credit for his prompt guilty plea and said he had no reason to question references describing him as an honest, reliable person.
He said the maximum fine for Hayes’ offending was $200,000 or up to two years’ jail and he did not consider the $20,000 fine he imposed – 10 percent of the maximum – was excessive.
Judge Thompson ordered that 90 percent of the fine go to the Regional Council.
Regional Council Monitoring Manager Tony Phipps welcomed the sentencing, saying the judge’s comments reflected the seriousness of the offending and resultant pollution and there was further little he could add.