Demolition company, farmer fined over $50,000 after illegal Northland burn off

An Auckland-based demolition company and a farmer have been collectively fined more than $50,000 for the illegal burning and discharge of demolition materials, releasing noxious fumes into the air, from a Far North college.

A file image of a courtroom coat of arms. Source: 1 NEWS

The fines come after 500 cubic metres of waste material, including painted wood and plastic, was burned on land near Northland College in Kaikohe in August 2017.

Yakka Demolition and farmer Jason Robert Bill, who owned the land where the materials were burned, both pleaded guilty to two charges laid by the Northland Regional Council in the District and Environment Court, Northland Regional Council said in a statement.

Yakka Demolition faced charges of burning demolition waste between August 5-10, 2017, and the discharge of the waste to land between April 26, 2016, and August 7, 2017.

Bill faced charges of "permitting contravention" and "permitting a discharge of contaminants from open burning" between August 5-10, 2017, and permitting the discharge of contaminants on to land.

The farmer claimed he had been approached by the company about using his land for the disposal of untreated timber. District and Environment Court Judge JA Smith said there was no evidence Bill was aware of the actual contents of the waste. Bill was paid $30,000 plus GST during the agreement.

While Bill's claim appeared to have been accepted by the prosecution, Judge Smith said he had a duty to ensure his agreement with Yakka Demolition had been adhered to.

"What is now clear is that the waste consisted of a wide range of material including untreated wood, including plywood, medium density fibreboard, treated timber, painted wood, chipboard, plastic, metals and coated wire," the judge said.

While Judge Smith said there was no suggestion the waste would cause significant environmental effects long-term, "clearly the discharge of fumes from burning plastics, paint and the like can release toxic fumes into the environment."

The judge, finding Bill's culpability to be on the "lowest" end, fined him $11,800 on the discharge to land offence, and $2600 on the air discharge, with court costs of $130 on each charge.

The judge called Yakka Demolition's offences "moderately seriousness", labelling it "a case of wilful blindness rather than deliberate intention to breach the Regional Rules."

Noting that Yakka Demolition had spent more than $40,000 to arrange for an alternative placement for the materials and paying for testing and reporting at the site, the judge fined the company $24,000 for the land discharge and $12,000 for the air discharge. Court costs of $130 and a solicitor's fee of $113 were also imposed on each of the charges.

Northland Regional Council group manager regulatory services, Colin Dall, called the case a good reminder to landowners allowing activities to be carried out on their land of their responsibility to ensure that the activities are conducted in a lawful manner.

"Landowners should also be wary of relying on verbal agreements, particularly where the activity they allow to be undertaken on their land may require resource consent," Mr Dall said.