Courts taking environmental protection seriously
Two recent convictions for environment-related offences in the greater Wellington region have provided a warning to would-be rule breakers that they can expect significant punishment when they are caught.
Both cases involved stream works that damaged natural water courses and put the stream under pressure, increasing the risk of sedimentation and posing a threat to indigenous fish and plants.
In GWRC v Phillips Hamilton man Warren Phillips was today (18 Dec 2015) sentenced to 200 hours community work and to pay costs for reclaiming 30m of stream bed and diverting water into a new channel in a tributary of the Pauatahanui Stream at Belmont Road. An abatement notice was issued in October 2014, after which Mr Phillips immediately ceased work.
The Wellington District Court sentencing judge, Judge Thomson, observed that had Mr Phillips been a defendant with resources the starting point for a fine may have been as high as $50,000.
In January this year in GWRC v McPhee/Judgeford Heights Limited, Judge Dwyer, noting reclamation involving the piping of 40m of natural stream channel, described the offending as “either a deliberate breach of the Resource Management Act or so reckless as to make the difference meaningless.” The defendants were each fined $18,750 and ordered to pay court and solicitors’ costs.
Factors considered in Judge Dwyer’s decision were the importance of protecting the Pauatahanui catchment from pollution and the threat of sedimentation in the harbour from unauthorised works.
“It is heartening to see the courts taking these cases seriously and sending a strong message to would-be rule breakers,” says Greater Wellington Regional Council manager, environmental regulation, Al Cross.
“That message is that the community is increasingly taking a dim view of unauthorised modification or abuse of our natural resources and it won’t be tolerated.
“Our strong advice to anyone thinking of modifying land or water is talk to us first about whether you need a resource consent before you carry out the work. This is really important as our streams are under a lot of pressure and consents ensure that protection is put in place to limit the environmental impacts of modification.”
Both cases had implications for the health of the Pauahatanui inlet, which is part of Porirua Harbour.
“The streams flowing into the harbour have relatively high ecological values, supporting sensitive invertebrates and native fish species such as the threatened Giant Kokopu and Inanga and eels,” says Juliet Milne, GWRC Team Leader, Aquatic Ecosystem & Quality.
"Also, excessive catchment sediment entering and depositing in Porirua Harbour and Pauatahanui Inlet has been described as one issue threatening regionally significant ecological, recreational and cultural values and harbour supports.”
Greater Wellington Regional Council will continue to investigate breaches of rules that protect the regional environment.