Charges against Hastings District Council after Havelock North gastro investigation
Hawke's Bay Regional Council has laid charges against Hastings District Council for alleged offences uncovered in the course of its investigation into the contamination of Havelock North drinking water.
The matter was to be called in Hastings District Court on November 28 - the same day the government inquiry into the outbreak commences in a separate courtroom in the same building.
The regional council announced on Friday that it had laid charges, but it did not name Hastings District Council as the defendant. Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule confirmed his council had been charged.
It faces two charges of unlawful taking of water.
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The charges were laid after the regional council investigated the source of the contamination that resulted in more than 5000 people getting sick, and the condition of water supply bores in the area.
The regional council said that during its investigations it found evidence of a breach of the maintenance conditions of the district council's resource consent.
If a breach was proved, the resource consent no longer permitted the taking of water. The regional council commenced the prosecution, alleging the unlawful taking of water from the aquifer arising from the alleged failure to meet well head maintenance conditions.
Yule said his council was taking advice in relation to this matter.
"It is disappointing with the Government Inquiry about to start that the regional council has pre-empted that process by taking this prosecution action. Hastings District Council believes it is for the Inquiry to determine the causes of the contamination event," he said.
"The regional council seems to have reached its own conclusions based on evidence yet to be tested," he said.
"Our own investigations indicate a number of possible causes other than the bores themselves which the Inquiry will investigate further."
"It is of concern that this prosecution action is already interfering with our ability to respond to the Inquiry. We also note that Regional Council in monitoring of consent conditions consistently reported that the condition in question had been complied with" Yule said.
Regional council chairman Rex Graham said he learned of the prosecution on Friday morning.
"It was a management decision, not a governance decision. Management have made a call, as is their job to make a call like this. It's really important there isn't any political intervention or involvement in matters such as this," Graham said.
The government inquiry, which held a short preliminary hearing last month, would look at the adequacy of all contingency plans, including those of the Hastings District Council, Hawke's Bay Regional Council and the Hawke's Bay District Heath Board.
The Inquiry followed the widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North in August, with more than 5200 people falling ill, following the confirmation of the presence of campylobacter in the water supply.
The inquiry would not look at civil, criminal or disciplinary liability but would look at fault.
Public hearings would be held at Hastings District Court between November 28 and December 2 and between December 12 and 20.
The inquiry had to report back to government by late March next year.