Horizons Regional Council welcomes District Court decision on environmental offending

Horizons Regional Council have welcomed the District Court’s decision to fine and convict Land Meats New Zealand (LMNZ) $66,500 for illegally discharging wastewater from its meat processing plant into the Whanganui River.

Horizons strategy and regulation manager Dr Nic Peet says the Council is pleased with the decision as there is an expectation that large businesses, particularly those that produce high levels of waste, manage waste appropriately and have contingency measures in place to ensure their operations comply with environmental regulations.

“In March 2017, a malfunction occurred in the meat processing wastewater pump at LMNZ’s Bryce Street, Whanganui premises,” says Dr Peet.

“The pump was used to send wastewater from the factory’s trade-waste sump to the trade-waste wastewater system managed by Whanganui District Council. The pump, along with a back-up pump, blocked - resulting in meat processing wastewater flowing on to land and into stormwater drains, and potentially into the Whanganui River.”

In coming to its sentencing decision the Court noted the offending occurred due to a very high level of carelessness on behalf of LMNZ. The Court noted the system was antiquated, and had no fail-safes or back-up systems, meaning that in the event of failure there would have been an inevitable discharge to water.

The Court also recognised this was a significant discharge - there was the potential of serious effects on the Whanganui River, LMNZ only took action to address the spill once Horizons staff arrived on-site, and that LMNZ are part of the AFFCO Group, which has a poor environmental record and previous convictions for environmental offending.

The Court also noted the Whanganui is an iconic river and is recognised in statute as a legal person by Te Awa Tupua Act, reflecting the important connection between the river and iwi – which calls for a high level of protection.

“We feel the sentencing is an appropriate result and sends a clear message to commercial and industrial businesses that they need to carefully manage their operations to ensure they comply with the required environmental regulations. If they fail to do so they risk the imposition of significant fines and convictions,” says Dr Peet.

“The state of the Whanganui River is of utmost importance, it has significant cultural and recreational value to the wider community, so the responsibility for its health lies with us all.”

Today’s sentencing is one of three successful prosecutions relating to the discharge of wastewater. The other two were against Le Poulet Fabuleux Limited, a large commercial operation in Himatangi for careless disposal of washwater and effluent into the Lake Koputara, and Whanganui District Council discharge of human wastewater from a pump station into the Mowhanau Stream in January 2017.

“Two further prosecutions are underway but cannot currently be commented on,” says Dr Peet.
“Elsewhere around the region we continue to use other regulatory tools such as enforcement orders, infringement notices and consent reviews for non-compliance issues.

“Members of our community are encouraged to report any environmental incidents to our 24 hour Pollution Hotline on 0508 800 800.”