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Judge fines two farms more than $50,000 for effluent offences

16 September 2011

A judge has fined the owners of two Northland farms more than $50,000 between them for unrelated dairy effluent offences near Kaitaia and Whangarei last year.

Untreated dairy effluent overflows from a sump at the Schluter property, just metres from an unnamed tributary of the Aurere Stream.

In the first case, Far North man Anthony Joseph Schluter was fined $25,000 for offending on November 04 at the farm he owns and operates about 14km northeast of Kaitaia.

Schluter had earlier pleaded to a charge laid by the Northland Regional Council and was sentenced by Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook in the Whangarei District Court on July 19 this year.

On the same day, Judge Newhook fined Taranaki man James Dodunski $26,000 for offences relating to dairy effluent discharges at a farm Dodunski owns at Maungakaramea, southwest of Whangarei.

JKD Farms had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges laid by the council for offences committed at the 162 hectare farm on August 30 last year.  Dodunski, who lives at Opunake in Taranaki, is the farm’s sole director and shareholder.

In sentencing notes released recently, the judge said Schluter’s offending related to effluent discharges on to land and into an unnamed tributary of the Aurere Stream.

The judge said the regional council had worked with Schluter since 2000 advising him repeatedly that his treatment ponds were below industry-recommended dimensions to adequately treat effluent.

The council had issued Schluter with five abatement notices and five infringement notices over that time.

The judge said he agreed with a submission by the council’s lawyer that the system was very poor, the defendant had been told often to fix it and done nothing, the system had not been up to scratch and Schluter was not keeping an eye on things adequately.

The judge noted Schluter’s early guilty plea and that “the mere fact of the prosecution has been very significant to the defendant to the extent that he is now to give up dairy farming”.  (Schluter’s lawyer told the judge his client would run drystock on the land instead.)

However, the judge said it was of equal – or perhaps greater - importance to deter others “to get them to pull up their socks and avoid this kind of offending”.
While some repairs had been made, others had not in the nine months between the offending and Schluter’s sentencing.

The judge noted the nearby tributary and stream flowed about 12.5km before discharging into Doubtless Bay.

“It is all very well for a defendant to say that this was an isolated incident and that the waterways extended over quite some distance to the coastal marine area, but in fact if everybody carried (out) these sorts of inappropriate practices, the whole of the waterway and coastal marine area at its mouth would suffer badly.”

Schluter was fined $25,000, plus $132.89 court costs with ninety percent of the fine to go to the regional council.

In his sentencing notes for JKD Farms, also released recently, Judge Newhook said that offending related to discharge of farm dairy effluent from a stormwater bypass pipe and an irrigator on the Maungakaramea farm.

Effluent had been running towards tributaries, which led to a river system that ultimately fed into the Kaipara Harbour.

The judge noted that there had also been repeated warnings from the regional council about the system over a period of about eight years, during which time the council had served one abatement and five infringement notices.

Despite that “the system in place on the land until very recently, really had no margin of safety in it for the level of operations that were being undertaken on the land, particularly in times of high rainfall”.

Judge Newhook noted a farm manager involved at the time of the offending no longer worked for the defendant and couldn’t be found, but said given the low safety margin he had outlined, “it therefore matters not a lot about whether the farm manager took some shortcuts”.

“I am persuaded that a combination of events starting with the level of the stocking, the ground conditions, the rainfall conditions and the sheer inadequacies of the system overall, were ultimately the cause of the downfall of this property.”

“I consider that the culpability is relatively high in this instance and that there was a deliberateness on the part of the defendant in not accepting and acting on the constructive and constant urgings of the regional council to upgrade the system overall and to do more than minor works.”

The judge said that since the offending the defendant had finally spent about $60,000 on a good, adequate system, noting that “at the end of the day, it is not for the council to design a farmer’s effluent system for him”.

The judge acknowledged the defendant’s considerable remorse and early guilty plea, fining a total of $26,000 (divided equally between the charges) plus $132.89 court costs on each charge.
Once again, 90% of the fines will go to the regional council.

Riaan Elliot, the council’s Monitoring Senior Programme Manager, says the judge described JKD Farms’ actions as a “sorry history of non-compliance” despite the council’s “constructive and constant urgings” and says those comments could apply equally to Schluter.

Mr Elliot says as was often the case with farm dairy effluent offences, the council had not made the decision to prosecute lightly, but once again, had been left with little choice in both the cases, given the ongoing nature of them.

He says the council works proactively with the dairy industry and farmers through the Northland Dairy Effluent Improvement Group to lift the standard of effluent management in the region.  The group includes representatives of Federated Farmers, Farmers of New Zealand, Fonterra, Dairy New Zealand and the council.

Last updated on the 3rd March 2017