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Positive Outcome After Awakino Station Burning.

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Environment Canterbury will not proceed with a prosecution against a North Otago pastoral farm after a burning incident near Kurow got out of control.

Awakino Station Limited burnt scrub and tussock on the high country property in August 2008 which spread to neighbouring land, including Department of Conservation land, resulting in damage to over 380 hectares.

An investigation of the burning by Environment Canterbury showed that the station had a permit for the burning issued by the Waitaki District Council; however the station failed to notify or to obtain a resource consent from Environment Canterbury under the Land and Vegetation Management Regional Plan, Part IV - Burning in the Hill and High Country (referred to as the "Burn Plan").

The prosecution against the station was withdrawn after more information was provided to Environment Canterbury about the incident including how local weather conditions caused the fire to escape and the measures Mr Plunkett took to control the outbreak, including the use of helicopters.

The regional council received $8000 towards investigation costs and further costs towards remediation. The station also organised and chaired a public meeting with farmers and representatives of the Waitaki District Council Rural Fire Service, Department of Conservation and Environment Canterbury to explain what happened and how to comply with the requirements for burning scrub in the future.

"The regional council withdrew the prosecution against the station after additional information was provided to Environment Canterbury once the case had reached the Environment Court. Unfortunately, this information was not communicated until after the prosecution had commenced," said Kim Drummond, Environment Canterbury director regulation.

Mr Drummond said that Environment Canterbury undertakes prosecutions against those who fail to comply with regulatory requirements but in certain cases there are alternatives to prosecution available.

In March this year, the Ministry for the Environment released 'A study into the use of Prosecutions under the Resource Management Act 1991 (May 2005 - June 2008)' which assessed the prosecution rate of 31 local authorities throughout New Zealand. Environment Canterbury accounted for 9.7 % of the successful prosecutions nationwide, placing it second equal. During the current year, prosecution numbers are running above that three-year average.

"Prosecution remains an option that is open to Environment Canterbury. However in this case, it was not deemed necessary and we are identifying how farmers can better manage future burnings through working with agencies such as Environment Canterbury," said Mr Drummond.

Many local farmers who attended the public meeting were unaware of the need to notify Environment Canterbury if they intend to burn vegetation. As a result, the regional council will be meeting with interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of the Burn Plan and to seek feedback on ways to make it work more effectively. The Council will shortly be placing advertisements in the local papers to remind landowners of their requirements in the coming season.

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