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Published: 2011-11-10 00:00:00

An Otorohanga farmer has been fined nearly $50,000 over unlawful dairy effluent discharge offences, while his herd manager faced fines of more than $10,000.

The case brought by Waikato Regional Council – and heard in Hamilton District Court before Judge Melanie Harland - concerned two events in March and November last year at a farm in Paewhenua Rd owned by the Gregan Family Trust.

Following helicopter monitoring by the council in November 2010 a ground inspection was carried out at the Gregan property. This inspection showed that effluent from a holding pond was deliberately being siphoned off to a nearby paddock where it was ponded in large volumes. Council staff also found that there was a substantial recent overflow of effluent from a second holding pond.

Through the course of the subsequent council investigation it was found that, in March 2010, a Fonterra contractor had observed a “river of effluent” overflowing from a storage pond and running down a hillside at the property.

The prosecution was based on the discharges from both the March and November incidents.

The judge found these discharges did not comply with the council’s effluent management rules and therefore contravened the Resource Management Act.

Defendant Terence Gregan, a trustee of the Gregan Family Trust, faced three charges in respect of both incidents, while herd manager Shane Rodgers faced two charges in respect of the November incident only. Both pleaded guilty to the charges.

Judge Harland acknowledged there was no direct discharge to waterways but said the real concern was the prospect of nitrogen from the effluent leaching into groundwater and ultimately affecting surface water health.

She found the overall effect of the offending on the environment was “moderate” and that it was impossible to say exactly what long-term damage would occur. “Nonetheless, the effects of discharges of dairy effluent which may result in leaching to groundwater are by their nature invisible and cumulative.”

The judge added Gregan’s behavior had been negligent, his approach slack and that in some respects his general attitude “reflected a complete failure to act responsibly”.

Gregan was fined a total of $49,875 and ordered to pay costs and fees of $245. Rodgers was fined $10,125 initially but this was subsequently reduced to a total of $2,000 after the judge accepted evidence about his “difficult” financial situation.

“This is a very clear message from the court that mismanagement of dairy effluent is seen as serious offending and exposes farmers to severe penalties,” said the council’s investigations and complaints manager Patrick Lynch.

“We were particularly concerned about the deliberate nature of this offending. It is disappointing to see a case like this when the dairy industry, as a whole, is working so hard to manage farm effluent responsibly and in light of the improved compliance results that we have been reporting recently.”