18 Jun 2021

Trio fined $105k for 'reckless' dumping of demolition material

4:31 pm on 18 June 2021

A judge has described the actions of a contractor which illegally dumped demolition material from the old New Plymouth Airport terminal on a North Taranaki farm as "reckless" and "deliberate".

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File photo. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Offshore Plumbing Services owners Racheal and Jeremy Cottam and Maxwell Gray were fined a total of $105,000 when then they appeared for sentencing in Environment Court today.

The trio are the sole shareholders of company and Racheal Cottam its director.

Offshore Plumbing Services had the contract for the second stage of the airport terminal's demolition, starting in April 2020, including responsibility for removal and disposal of debris.

Following complaints of a "smoky fire", in June last year Taranaki Regional Council staff discovered that demolition material was being dumped and burned at a dairy farm at Lower King Road in Tarurutangi.

The farm is owned by the Gray Fox Trust of which Jeremy Cottam and Gray the registered owners.

The court heard today that council staff found demolition material - including concrete, reinforcing steel, flooring and timber framing - had been dumped in a 15m by 10.5m pit at a small quarry on the farm. The pit was 6m deep, full of water and near to an unnamed tributary of the Mangaoraka Stream.

Adjacent to the pit there was another area of about 150sqm where treated and painted timber, roofing panels, insulation and electrical cabling had been deposited and burned.

Jeremy Cottam arrived during the inspection and told the council officers he did not know it was not permitted to burn the waste. It was the last day of the airport's demolition.

Abatement notices were served and later testing revealed contaminants in surface water and soil samples which had the potential to get into the groundwater. Traces of asbestos were also found and macroinvertebrate life had been affected in the vicinity of the pit.

The court heard today that the company had wanted to dispose of the waste at the New Plymouth District Council landfill, but in the time between the contract being won and work commencing it had stopped accepting such waste.

Counsel for the defendants Phil Lang said they were sorting the material at the farm with the aim of recycling what could be salvaged before properly disposing of the rest.

He said asbestos waste from the airport had been disposed of correctly elsewhere and there were only traces of it left among the waste.

Judge Brian Dwyer said there was no evidence to suggest this was not the case and the regional council did not challenge this position.

"Dumping records at the council landfill confirm that asbestos was legally disposed of there by the defendants, but it must be accepted that, potentially, some vestiges of asbestos from the demolition site made their way onto the property."

He said he did not want to downplay the seriousness of the offending but said that in his mind, the effects of the illegal dumping were limited in severity, duration and localised.

"Having said that I note that the contaminants identified are ones with real potential to have serious adverse affects on human and marine life or water life and should not have been discharged into surface and ground water at all."

Judge Dwyer said there was no argument that the defendants' actions were deliberate, even if they were not aware they had broken the law.

"Their company is in the business of demolition and, as participants in it, they were expected to know and comply with their legal obligations.

"The failure to make any enquiry with the council or any legal or planning advisor about what they were undertaking on the property can only be described as reckless and the defendants' culpability for the offending is correspondingly high."

Judge Dwyer turned down an application to convict and discharge Racheal Cottam and did not accept that Gray was less culpable than the other defendants.

He convicted each of the defendants of two breaches of the Resource Management Act, and mindful of providing a deterrent against similar offending, fined Racheal and Jeremy Cottam $13.250 on each charge or a total of $52,500.

Gray was $26,250 fined on each charge also $52,500 in total.

The defendants were also ordered to prepare a written apology for the Puketapu hāpu and Te Āti Awa iwi on whose rohe the offending occurred.

Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management, Fred McLay, said the defendants had brought the prosecution upon themselves.

"The agreed facts before the court show that the company had a plan in place for the safe and effective removal of the waste, and instead chose to dispose of it inappropriately, and the court has taken a dim view of this approach.

"The community rightly expects us to take action in these circumstances, and evidence of environmental damage was present, and this is reflected in the court's decision."

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