Dairy company cops $35,000 fine for stink
Dairy company Open Country Dairy has been convicted and fined more than $35,000 for discharging an objectionable odour from its Waharoa factory.
The bad smells wafted over the surrounding countryside at the time of last year's "spring flush", when the milk supply was high.
The Waikato Regional Council received 45 complaints from residents in the area over 16 days in October and November last year.
Many in the community of 500 people, near Matamata, complained to the council that the odour was so bad it was causing physical effects such as nausea, vomiting, and sleepless nights.
Some as far as 2 kilometres away said the smell was so bad they had to keep their doors and windows shut and their children inside.
Some refrained from hanging out the washing, while others had to leave Waharoa entirely to escape from the stench.
It was described by one as "putrid and vile, like something dead and rotting". The principal of a nearby school said he had considered closing it because of the smell.
The company told council investigators the odour was a result of what it described as infrastructure failures at the factory, with larger-than-normal volumes of waste ending up in the wastewater treatment pond.
The pond struggled to cope and the odour developed, with the situation taking some time to recover.
In a recent sentence released from the Hamilton District Court, Judge Melanie Harland remarked that the effect on residents of the odour was "profound and continuous".
"This is not a case where the defendant was slow to upgrade or provide adequate infrastructure, but it is a case which highlights the need to provide a buffer for unexpected infrastructure failures, despite the infrastructure itself being fit for purpose".
Council investigations manager Patrick Lynch told the Waikato Times he could not comment on the magnitude of the fine.
"It is the courts' role to impose the penalty. We have responded to complaints from the community. That's our job while the courts' job is to come up with a figure they think is appropriate."
While there had not been many cases of firms being fined for producing bad smells in the past few years, it was not unheard of, Lynch said.
Some recent cases in Waihi, Morrinsville and Waiuku had involved odours from intensive farming such as chicken farms and piggeries, and the offensive aroma of abattoirs.
Unlawfully discharging objectionable odours is an offence under the Resource Management Act that comes with a maximum fine of $600,000.
In her decision, Harland noted the company had spent more than $1 million upgrading its wastewater treatment plant at the site as a direct result of the incident, and had apologised to the community for the smell. The overall capacity of the factory had also been increased to 2.5 million litres to cope with the effects of any future spring flushes.
Open Country national operations manager Danie Brink was not able to respond to Times' inquiries.