ECan bungled on smelly factory
Environment Canterbury (ECan) says it "could have done better" in dealing with a Christchurch gelatine factory continually violating its resource consent.
Gelita's Woolston factory has been on ECan's "priority list" for at least 10 years for breaching its consent with offensive odour emissions.
ECan Resource Management Act monitoring and compliance manager Brett Aldridge said it could have handled the case differently.
"In hindsight, yes, they stunk 10 years ago and they stink now," he said.
"We could have done better."
Gelita recently asked for a three-year grace period, allowing the occasional offensive odour, while it repaired its quake-damaged factory.
However, Aldridge said the company could face fines for breaches just two weeks ago.
Since May 2010 Gelita has received a verbal warning, two written warnings, an abatement notice and three infringements each with a $1000 fine.
Aldridge said ECan had run out of patience and had boosted its monitoring of the factory.
Resource management director Kim Drummond said if current problems persisted, by the end of March ECan would escalate consent enforcement to prosecution.
Under current legislation, Gelita could face fines up to $600,000 and board members could be jailed for two years.
While ECan did not shut businesses down, the costs could put Gelita out of business, Aldridge said.
However, despite the longevity of the problem, Aldridge said it was not a clear-cut situation.
A decade ago, Woolston was classified as a heavy industrial area with a high tolerance for odours. Recently, the area had become more residential and business orientated - a shift accelerated by the earthquakes.
As a result, the neighbourhood was more sensitive.
"Suddenly, people are very sensitive to odour, and they're dead right," he said.
"I'm not excusing Gelita but with large scale operations, it does take time."
Before the quake, Aldridge said Gelita was making progress. Like any company wanting to turn a profit, it had tried the cheaper repair options first.
This trial-and-error process was lengthy with most companies, Aldridge said.
"Those days are gone," Aldridge said.
"They now have to invest in that site or not, and they've asked for a grace period to do that."
Gelita factory manager Gary Monk said the company was confident the proposed solutions would make significant improvements but it needed time to implement them.
Gelita acknowledged the odour was a problem pre-quake but said the earthquakes had made it worse. It was now a priority to deal with odours and odour sources.
Aldridge said if the grace period was granted and Gelita failed to measure up, ECan would not be so understanding.
In the meantime, ECan would continue to enforce the current consent.
Gelita's application would be considered by ECan commissioners and would likely be publicly notified.
- The Press