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Development companies fined for sediment discharges into stream

Thursday, 18 December 2014 10:00 a.m.

Two Tauranga development companies have been fined $75,000 in Tauranga District Court for six offences of discharging sediment-contaminated water from the Tauriko Business Estate into Kopurererua Stream.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council brought the prosecution against Comanche Holdings Ltd and TBE 2 Ltd, which were developing the 30 hectare business estate near Tauranga. The stream runs along the eastern border of the development.  

The court heard that the company gained resource consents in 2007 and 2008 to undertake large scale earthworks to re-contour pastoral land to create the estate. In 2011 it applied for another consent for the second stage of the development, adding another 7.3 ha of land to the south and including onsite quarrying to extract pumice.

The consent conditions were that all sediment-contaminated stormwater generated would be treated in sediment retention ponds before discharging to the stream.

In early December 2013 a member of the public reported to the Council that water in the Waikareao Estuary was brown from a silt discharge. A Regional Council officer found the estuary and stream extremely discoloured, and traced the contamination in the stream back to the development at Tauriko Business Estate.

At the time the discharges occurred a severe weather warning had been issued, and sediment controls had been breached or bypassed in several areas. Very large volumes of sediment-contaminated stormwater were bypassing the pond, discharging down a bank and into the stream. Catchpits at the end of Matarawa Place would normally have captured a lot of the stormwater but they had been blocked until construction of the cul-de-sac was completed.

Environmental effects from the discharges included a high level of suspended solids contamination in the stream, displacing indigenous fish species and smothering habitat. 

The affected estuary is recognised as a habitat for marsh birds, and a significant indigenous estuarine vegetation area of value to Ngai Tamarawaho as the last remnants of their ancestral lands.

The site had had previous compliance issues, with a penalty imposed of $68,000 on a related company, IMF Backstop Ltd, for similar discharges in 2009.

When interviewed, the director of the company said resources at the Tauriko Business Estate at the time of the discharges had been scaled back and he had been heavily involved in other projects in Auckland and Cambridge.

After the discharges sediment was cleaned out, the filter cloth was removed and new cut-off drains, bunding and silt fencing was installed.

In April 2014 abatement notices were issued requiring the companies to cease breaching the consent conditions. The site was found to be non-compliant in May 2014.

Calling the incident ‘serious’, Judge Harland said the discharge would have reduced the productivity of the stream’s ecosystem, and affected the plant and sea life. She had said in a previous sentencing a message needed to be given to commercial developers that a high degrees of care must be taken to prevent such incidents, and that such sentencing would attract a sterner response in future.

Management of erosion and sediment control at the site fell well short of what was required, and the director would have been well aware of the need for active management of the site, given the previous conviction of his other company, IMF Backstop, in 2009. The director had also been let down by their contractors and employees on the site, she said.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Pollution Prevention Manager Nick Zaman said with the wet weather developers and site managers should be ensuring that stormwater and sediment controls were being actively managed.

“They need to prevent unwanted discharges to our region's waterways. This is particularly important over the Christmas and New Year period where sites may not have the higher level of supervision normally in place,” he said.

Kopurererua Stream