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Company director fined for wetland drainage

22 October 2008


Ditching and Baling Company director fined for wetland drainage.

A North Otago company director and his company have been fined and ordered to pay costs to Environment Canterbury (ECan) after the Environment Court found that Mervyn James McCabe had entered into a joint venture agreement to drain water from Buscott Farm Property adversely affecting nearby wetland.

Mr McCabe's company, North Otago Ditching and Baling Limited drained water from Buscott Farm Property, affecting Ben Omar Swamp and Ben Omar Station between 20 September and 12 November 2007 in order to convert the land to dairying.

Although the landowners had obtained a general compliance certificate from the Waitaki District Council for the conversion and drainage of the land for dairying, this did not include resource consent from ECan.

Judge J A Smith ruled that by laying a two kilometre drain along the edge of the property, North Otago Ditching and Baling Limited had not only drained the farm station but also areas of nearby DOC wetland and partly lowered the water level in the Ben Omar Swamp that lay adjacent to the drain.

Judge Smith accepted that back-filling the drain to allow the re-establishment of the proper hydrological operation will remedy the damage in the long term, that Mr. McCabe would undertake the work himself and that he did not deliberately intend to de-water DOC wetland.

The Judge found that when undertaking an operation of that scale, Mr McCabe should have investigated whether he required resource consent and had failed to do so saying:

"...Farming at this scale is akin to an industrial operation and needs to be approached by getting proper advice and early consultation with the local authorities, including the Regional Council. I struggle to consider that you would invest this amount of money without making those reasonable and basic enquiries."

The Department of Conservation supported the action of ECan in prosecuting the company who undertook this work. As an affected party, DOC was pleased to see the Court requiring developers to obtain the necessary regional and district council consents which should ensure the Department is consulted about this sort of work by the landowner at the planning phase. The Department is now working with the landowner to ensure that the drain is filled in a manner which will ensure the Ben Omar Wetland can be returned to its original state. Other measures to protect the reserve, such as fencing to exclude stock are also being implemented, in conjunction with the landowner, to ensure its long term protection and enhancement.

Judge Smith accepted Mr McCabe's guilty plea and imposed a fine in regard to the company of $12,000 and made an order of costs of $4,244 to be paid to the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) to reimburse its expenditure, Court costs of $130 and solicitor's costs of $130. Mr McCabe was fined $3,000 plus Court costs of $130 and solicitor's costs of $130.

The scale of the sentence recognises that protection of wetlands from inappropriate use and development is a matter of national importance under the Resource Management Act 1991.


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