Waituna dairy farm manager Kevin Belling and his wife Rhonda Raymond-Williams have each been convicted and fined in the Invercargill District Court for four breaches of the Resource Management Act last September and October.
Two of the charges related to separate incidents where dairy effluent had ponded on their property after being sprayed from a travelling irrigator, and may have entered a watercourse. Another charge related to sludge and effluent from a concrete race flowing through a hole in a wall into a ditch, which fed into a tributary of the Waituna Stream. The fourth charge concerned dead cows being dumped in a hole in circumstances where they would have contaminated groundwater.
Mr Belling accepted responsibility for the offences and Judge Jane Borthwick fined him a total of $60,000 plus court costs - $20,000 and $25,000 on the charges relating to the failed travelling irrigator and $7,500 on each of the other two charges. Raymond-Williams, who owns the property and holds the resource consent for discharging effluent, was fined $1,500 plus costs on each charge.
Environment Southland brought the prosecutions and its solicitor Barry Slowley said that the property had been found to be significantly non-compliant on five out of seven inspections, and had achieved a marginal pass on the other two occasions. The experienced compliance officer who inspected the property in September and October had commented that “the environmental state of the property is one of the worst, if not the worst, that he has seen in the Southland Region,” Mr Slowley told the court.
“Mr Belling’s attitude during the two inspections was quite belligerent and he did not appear to accept the likely impact of his farming practices on the environment. Mr Belling appears to believe that he can discharge effluent to land in any quantity and by any means as long as it does not affect surface water.”
Belling told the court he accepted that “our management practices in hindsight have been risky” but submitted that the effluent system on the farm complied with the conditions imposed on the resource consent when it was granted in 1994. He said Environment Southland should have required them to upgrade their infrastructure and put in more storage when the consent was renewed in 2005.
The travelling irrigator had now been replaced with a low-application rate irrigation system and he intended to build a new pond to provide extended storage.
Judge Borthwick was unimpressed with Belling’s submission that his effluent pond had insufficient storage, and that he had chosen to irrigate when ground conditions were unsuitable in preference to letting the pond overflow. The consent conditions for effluent storage were a minimum, not a maximum, she said. The succession of poor results from inspections should have made them realise that their system was inadequate. “It should have been apparent to you for a while, that you were not coping with the environment you were farming in.”
“Many of the factors you put forward as mitigation as I see as aggravation, and I am concerned that you do not see them the same way,” she said.