Reconsidering Approach to Stock Truck Discharges
Environment Southland to Reconsider its Approach to Stock Truck Discharges
Environment Southland will reconsider its use of the Resource Management Act in its approach to stock trucks discharging effluent onto roads after the District Court awarded costs against the council on a case heard last month, Chief Executive Rob Phillips said today.
Environment Judge Jeff Smith has ruled that the Council must pay $5000 towards the legal costs incurred by Euan Shearing Contracting Ltd in preparing its defence relating to an alleged discharge of effluent from a stock truck on 31 May 2011. The Council had issued a $750 infringement notice against the company, which elected to have the matter heard in the District Court. Environment Southland withdrew the prosecution and the company sought costs.
In his ruling, Judge Smith noted that the case was “novel” in that it sought to prove the principle that a discharge of effluent from a vehicle could constitute an offence under the Resource Management Act. “Rather than seeking a law change to clarify the various issues or seeking a declaration, the Regional Council used the prosecution device in conjunction with the New Zealand Police,” Judge Smith said in his ruling. “… it was clear to the Regional Council that such a prosecution was novel and untested.”
He ruled that Environment Southland must pay $5000 towards the $7000 costs plus disbursements that the company had incurred.
Mr Phillips said that a legal audit of the Council’s compliance processes was still underway, and he would not pre-empt its findings. However, he said that it was significant that Judge Smith had not specifically criticised the amendments that a compliance officer had made to an Environment Southland form which a police officer had partly filled in after inspecting the truck.
“Much has been made in the media of allegations that a staff member had altered a police document,” Mr Phillips said. “The judgement clearly refers to “a form” – I want to reiterate that this was an Environment Southland form with an Environment Southland logo on the top that both compliance officers and Police used to record information.
Mr Phillips said that animal waste leaking from trucks on to roads remained an important issue that would have to be addressed in other ways, because motorists were rightly upset at being sprayed with effluent. Action will include establishing a network of effluent dump stations around the region. The Council has set aside funds for the first effluent dump station for stock trucks to be built on a State Highway this financial year.
Last winter there was a noticeable drop in the amount of effluent reported on roads around Southland. Mr Phillips said that keeping roads clear of effluent was not a direct responsibility of Environment Southland’s, and he acknowledged the lead role that the Transport industry and Dairy NZ had played this year to educate farmers and trucking firms.