Targeting of stock trucks slammed

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 06/11/2012

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Environment Southland's controversial targeting of stock truck companies last winter has culminated in most of the ensuing court charges being withdrawn and festering resentment over the way the issue was handled.

In a joint Environment Southland and police operation, trucks laden with dairy cows were pulled over and checked for effluent discharge before and on Gypsy Day last year, when thousands of cows were transported throughout the region and the resources of the trucking companies were stretched to the limit.

Environment Southland issued 14 infringement notices against truck companies and their drivers as a result of the operations, but most refused to pay and requested a hearing, with Environment Southland subsequently laying charges. The council later withdrew nine of those charges.

Environment Southland's actions in fining the truckies has been slammed by the Road Transport Forum boss Ken Shirley, who said he was unimpressed the council had gone down the enforcement and prosecution path rather than working co-operatively with the truckies.

Environment Southland was the only regional council in the country to prosecute truckies for discharge from trucks under the Resource Management Act and it had been a wasteful and unproductive exercise that had cost ratepayers and trucking companies thousands of dollars without achieving anything, he said.

The Road Transport Forum had advised Environment Southland against taking enforcement action, but it had found the council to be "belligerent, uncompromising and very unhelpful," Mr Shirley said.

The organisation and its members were looking forward to a more constructive relationship with the council in future, he said.

Invercargill lawyer Kate McHugh, who represented five trucking clients who were issued with six of the infringement notices by Environment Southland last winter, said all six charges were withdrawn by the council when the issue went to court last month.

The charges were withdrawn on the agreement that one of her clients, TSK White, agreed to make a one-off payment towards costs of $750, she said.

Environment Southland spokeswoman Michele Poole said she agreed all six charges had been withdrawn, but disagreed what the $750 was for, maintaining it was paid as an infringement fee.

Ms McHugh said another of her clients, Te Anau Bulk Haulage, which was also caught up in the police-ES operation targeting truckies last winter, pleaded guilty to two charges of effluent discharge from their trucks and was fined $1500 on each matter. Two other charges were withdrawn, Ms McHugh said.

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It was the first time in New Zealand a joint regional council and police operation had resulted in a conviction and the first time the Resource Management Act had been used to prosecute for this type of matter, she said.

The council's actions in targeting the trucking companies at their busiest time of year had created ill-will and was both unexpected and unnecessary, given the "minimal" amount of effluent the council claimed was spilled from the trucks, she said.

The trucking community was upset it had been singled out by the council when it thought it was working with the council to solve the issues.

The truckies were also upset they had been targeted when they were only one part of a wider issue; farmers also had to ensure their stock were not put on green feed in the four hours before they were loaded on to the trucks, she said.

Truckies also felt Environment Southland had to begin introducing effluent dump stations in the region so truckies could dump their effluent during their journeys. Such dump stations were in many other regions, she said.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said the infringement fees only reached court because the defendants chose to exercise their right to challenge them.

He refuted claims the joint police and Environment Southland sting was unexpected, saying prior publicity had made it clear that Environment Southland compliance staff and the police would be co-operating to enforce the law.

The public expected Environment Southland to take action and it was "odd" to suggest that doing so was a waste of money, Mr Phillips said.

Environment Southland had been working with truckies to remind them of their responsibilities and the need for trucks to have effluent holding tanks.

Mr Phillips said money has been allocated to begin establishing Southland's first effluent dump site, at Mataura, this financial year.

Southland police area tactical response manager Olaf Jensen said the joint operation by Environment Southland and the police that saw the stock trucks pulled over last winter was one of road safety and environmental concern.

evan.harding@stl.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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