A council’s failure to monitor a forestry company has been labelled by a judge as “reprehensible and irresponsible, to say the least”.
Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer made the remark about Gisborne District Council when sentencing Juken New Zealand to a $152,000 fine.
Juken was one of 10 forestry companies prosecuted by the council over damage caused by “slash” – forestry debris – in storms that hit the region in June last year.
The slash-damaged roads and bridges and piled up on farms and in gullies. Worst hit was the settlement of Tolaga Bay, where water and logs crashed through homes.
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The cost of the clean-up was put at $10million.
Juken pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching the Resource Management Act by discharging a contaminant (slash logging debris, waste logging material and sediment) onto land between June 3 and June 12, where it may enter water.
The offending occurred on the 1096ha Waituna Forest pine plantation, about 30 kilometres southwest of Gisborne, and resulted in debris entering various “protected watercourses” and tributaries of the Mangapoike River, which enters the Wairoa River.
Following the heavy rainfall events on June 3-4 and June 11-12 Juken reported slip damage to the forest and a neighbouring property to the council on June 25.
Council investigators found a raft of breaches of consent conditions, including piles of slash piled in precarious positions, and said the ecological impact on waterways was “extensive” and “severe”.
The council issued an abatement notice and Juken largely complied with it by carrying out extensive remedial work.
When sentencing Juken in Gisborne District Court last month, Judge Dwyer noted that sediment discharges like those involved here “will make a real but undefinable contribution to the levels of contaminant in the rivers and the sea where it ultimately ends up”.
He said the Gisborne region had experienced six major storm and extreme weather events between 1994 and 2015 and the potential for large amounts of slash and sediment to be mobilised and washed downstream “should have been obvious”.
Juken failed to comply with Forestry Owners Association Code of Practice as well as its resource consent.
“Not only do these breaches point to very poor management on Juken’s part, but the breaches are inherently serious matters – a point which I cannot stress enough,” Dwyer said.
He said “it is impossible to describe Juken’s management of the Waituna Forest as anything other than ‘careless in the extreme'”.
In its submissions to the court Juken said the council had not undertaken any inspections of the forest to ensure it was complying with the consents it was issued in 2013 and 2014.
Judge Dwyer said that was no excuse, but he recorded his “real concern” that this showed the council had failed to meet its obligations under the Act to monitor its consents.
The erosion-prone nature of the land and vulnerability of the region to extreme weather meant the council’s failure to monitor Juken’s consents was “reprehensible and irresponsible, to say the least”, he said.
A penalty was needed that would deter other companies from offending in a similar manner,he said.
Juken was a large operator, with 40,000ha of forests under management in New Zealand and “its failures in this case were multiple and significant”.
The maximum fine for the charge was $600,000. The judge set a starting point of $200,000, but allowed discounts for Juken’s willing co-operation in achieving remediation and compliance and a 20 per cent discount for the guilty plea.
The end result was a fine of $152,000. All but 10 per cent of that will be paid to the council.