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50K in fines for illegal demolition burning in Northland

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Two defendants have been collectively sentenced to more than $50,000 in fines and costs for their respective roles in the illegal burning and discharges of demolition materials from Kaikohe’s Northland College more than two years ago.

Defendant Yakka Demolition was the Auckland-based demolition company carting demolition materials from the college rebuild while fellow defendant, farmer Jason Robert Bill owned the land near the college where waste materials were placed.

Both defendants had each pleaded guilty to two charges laid by the Northland Regional Council.

In sentencing notes released recently, District and Environment Court Judge JA Smith says the two defendants had faced nearly identical charges; Yakka relating to the burning of demolition waste between 05-10 August 2017 and the discharge of contaminants (demolition waste) to land between 26 April 2016 and 07 August 2017.

Bill had faced charges of ‘permitting contravention, permitting a discharge of contaminants from open burning’ between 05-10 August 2017 and permitting the discharge of contaminants on to land.

Bill claimed to have been approached about using his land for the disposal of untreated timber and Judge Smith said there was no evidence he was aware of the actual contents of the waste.

The judge said Bill’s claim "appears to be accepted by the prosecution", however, it claimed he had a duty to ensure the verbal agreement he had made was being adhered to by the demolition company.

"What is now clear is that the waste consisted of a wide range of waste from untreated wood, including plywood, medium density fibreboard, treated timber, painted wood., chipboard, plastic, metals and coated wire."

Tyres had also found their way into the waste but the judge accepted a "third party unknown" had placed them onsite as they were not delivered by Yakka or part of the college demolition materials.

The judge says there was no suggestion of any significant environmental effects long-term "but clearly the discharge of fumes from burning plastics, paint and the like can release toxic fumes into the environment".

A recent report indicated there had been no long-term contamination but "there has been an impact in terms of the site becoming a HAIL (Hazardous Activities and Industries List) site and thus requiring notation in the District Plan". (HAIL is a compilation of activities and industries considered likely to cause land contamination resulting from hazardous substance use, storage or disposal.)

Commenting on Bill, Judge Smith says he was prosecuted as owner of the land and the judge expressed surprise at the lack of formal contracts for the work given "accounts appear to have been rendered in the order of $30,000 plus GST".

The judge said in pleading guilty, Bill accepted he permitted the burning and the discharges, even if only in the sense of not undertaking appropriate diligence.

Notwithstanding there was about 500 cubic metres of material - and a significant sum of money - involved, the judge says Bill’s culpability was at the ‘lowest’ end.

Taking the various factors into account, the judge fined Bill $11,800 on the discharge to land offence and $2600 on the air discharge, with courts costs of $130 on each charge. The judge instructed the court registrar to set an appropriate solicitor’s fee in respect of the offences.

In Yakka’s case, Judge Smith says it had placed waste materials on to the fire and it would have been clear these contained contaminants that, when burnt, would release noxious substances into the air.

The judged said he viewed Yakka’s conduct as of "moderate seriousness, a case of wilful blindness rather than deliberate intention to breach the Regional Rules".

He noted the company had subsequently fully co-operated with the regional council, including spending more than $40,000 arranging for alternative placement of the materials at an appropriate site and paying for testing and reporting at the site.

Considering the company’s previous good conduct, its remorse and assistance to the council, the judge ultimately arrived at fines of $24,000 for the land discharge and $12,000 for the air discharge. Court costs of $130 and a solicitor’s fee of $113 were also imposed on each of the charges.

"I am satisfied that these fines represent a fair and appropriate outcome that will achieve deterrence while at the same time representing an appropriate outcome for each offender." The judge directed that 90 percent of all fines be paid to the regional council.

Meanwhile Colin Dall, the regional council’s Group Manager - Regulatory Services, says this case is a good reminder to landowners who allow activities to take place on their land that they still have a responsibility to ensure that those activities are being conducted in a lawful manner.

"Landowners should also be wary of relying on verbal agreements, particularly where the activity they allow to be undertaken on their land may require resource consent."

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