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Dairy Waste Spills Cost Farmer $67,000

Date: 19 November, 2008

Dairy Waste Spills Cost Farmer, Contractor $67,000

Spills of animal waste which badly polluted an Aranga stream have collectively cost the owners of a Kaipara dairy farm – and a contractor who worked with them - more than $67,000 in fines and court costs.

Waitapu Rd farmer Michael John Griffiths, Pendre Farms Ltd (a company he is a director of) and contractor Gregory James Dassler appeared for sentence in the Whangarei District Court in mid-October.

Griffiths and Pendre Farms had earlier admitted two charges each of illegally discharging farm dairy effluent (FDE) between 18 and 22 August last year, while all three defendants had admitted illegally discharging FDE between 23 August and 31 August last year.

Sentencing judge Laurie Newhook’s notes were released recently to the Northland Regional Council, which instigated the prosecutions.

Griffiths and Pendre Farms were each fined $12,500 plus $130 court costs for the first incident and $20,000 plus court costs for the second. Dassler’s role was limited to the second incident only and he was fined $1500 plus court costs.

Judge Newhook noted Griffiths – one of the 429 hectare farm’s owners - was actively involved in its day-to-day running. The judge said there had been a history of problems with effluent treatment and discharge systems at the property dating back to March 2002. Regional Council inspections had resulted in both infringement and abatement notices being issued.

The offending involved in the first incident before the court had been detected during a routine Regional Council inspection and included effluent discharging from a farm drainage canal into the Waitapu Stream, causing “conspicuous discolouration”. Samples showed a high faecal coliform level and it was clear the farm’s effluent ponds “had not been correctly operated and maintained for some time”.

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The Regional Council had discovered the second incident when it responded to a complaint to discover a “very considerable” quantity of effluent had flowed into the stream after works on the ponds over two days. Dassler had been doing the earthworks at Griffiths’ request.

“Neighbours of the farm reported severe consequences in the water course for at least seven days and for a distance of up to 4.5 kilometres.” The spill had rendered the water unsuitable for stock to drink over that period.

As far as the first charge involving Griffiths and Pendre Farms was concerned, Judge Newhook said “at the very least the level of culpability must be described as severe carelessness” and the defendants had had “more than enough time” over six years to deal with any problems. (He noted that since the incidents, Griffiths and Pendre Farms had installed a pump and irrigator and considerably improved and upgraded the systems on the land.)

In contrast, Dassler’s offending had involved significantly less culpability than the other two defendants and the “youthful” contractor had been employed ad hoc on a labour-only basis to drive a digger provided by Griffiths. Dassler’s job usually involved driving trucks and tractors and he was not generally involved in work relating to effluent disposal systems.

The judge accepted Dassler was significantly under Griffiths’ supervision. “…The worst that could probably be said was that he (Dassler) was out of his depth and should not have done this work.”

It was Dassler’s first offence, he had pleaded guilty at an early stage and Griffiths and Pendre Farms were in a similar position in that regard.

However, while Dassler’s financial means were “extremely meagre”, Griffiths and Pendre Farms effectively owned three dairy farms with a capital value approaching $10 million at the time of the offending. The judge said he had been advised that they had recently purchased a fourth farm for more than $1 million.

Judge Newhook ordered that 90 percent of all the fines he had imposed be paid to the Regional Council, which had incurred costs of more than $23,000 bringing the prosecutions.


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