Thursday, June 13, 2024

High Court dismisses farmer appeal against $96k pollution fine

The High Court at Hamilton has today dismissed an appeal by an Ōtorohanga farmer arguing that his fine for polluting a local stream was “manifestly excessive”.

In June this year, John Leonard Walling and his company, Cazjal Farm Limited, were convicted for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment and breaching an abatement notice.

The company and Mr Walling were fined $96,000 each, however, Mr Walling appealed the amount of his fine to the High Court.

In passing judgment today, Justice Downs said “it is important that fines in this context are sufficiently large to avoid pollution becoming a cost of business” and that “deterrence and denunciation are important sentencing principles for offences of this nature”.

The Court heard that the latest prosecution was the third since 2017 against those involved in the ownership and management of the farm. Each case has followed complaints from the public about an otherwise clear stream, the Matapara, flowing from the farm “turning green with effluent”. 

In the Hamilton District Court on 3 July 2023, Judge David Kirkpatrick convicted and fined contract milker G & V Farms Limited $52,000 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment on two occasions between September and November 2021. 

Farm owner, Mr Walling, had been earlier convicted and fined on 2 June 2023 for similar offending on three occasions between June and November 2021, and for contravening an Abatement Notice. 

An Enforcement Order was sought by the council, which was subsequently imposed by the court, against Cazjal Farm Limited and Mr Walling. The effect of the order requires both to comply with conditions to upgrade the effluent management practices and processes on the farm. They are also required to provide to the council effluent management plans and certifications as evidence of their compliance with the order.

The council’s regional compliance manager Patrick Lynch said, “To have to take three prosecutions and seek a court order to try to protect our waterways from one farming operation is extremely disappointing. The court is sending a very clear message by imposing fines totalling more than $240,000, and we can only hope these farm operators have heard that message. 

“We are very grateful to the farming community who have contacted us on each occasion when they have seen their local stream being polluted,” Mr Lynch said.

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