City may escape sewage spill fine


Hamilton ratepayers may yet escape a huge fine over a sewage spill into the Waikato River from the city’s wastewater treatment plant last year.

Sentencing for Hamilton City Council was deferred for restorative justice when the council appeared in the Hamilton District Court today. 

The deferment has renewed calls from Federated Farmers Waikato president James Houghton for a level playing field on pollution charges.

He said the farming advocacy group had already suggested restorative justice as an alternative to fines where negligence was not involved.

The council will reappear in November. It had earlier pleaded guilty to a pollution charge brought by the Waikato Regional Council in January. 

It admitted allowing tens of thousands of litres of partially treated human sewage into the Waikato River, in a "significant" spill, in July last year. 

The council had faced a fine of up to $600,000 before today’s appearance. Its guilty plea followed the withdrawal of a similar Resource Management Act charge against council worker Kevin Burgess. 

He had faced a fine of up to $300,000 and two years in prison.

Mr Houghton said Federated Farmers recognised the city council was just like anyone else, but farmers wanted fair and equal treatment for all.

The regional council in January said it was prosecuting after 90,000 litres of sewage sludge entered the river from the Pukete wastewater treatment plant. An investigation revealed another 22,000 litres of sludge had been spilled, but had not reached the river. Mechanical failure, alarm settings, an overflow pipe blockage of rags, hair and other materials were blamed as was "clarity and response to standard operating procedure".

Both city and regional council were expected to release statements later today. 

Waikato Times