Riverside planting atones for sewage discharge

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012

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Discharging human effluent into the Waikato River has landed the Hamilton City Council with a $37,500 bill.

The council was yesterday convicted, discharged and ordered to spend $37,500 on plantings after a Resource Management Act hearing in the Hamilton District Court.

Judge Melanie Harland avoided ordering the city council pay a fine after 90,000 litres of partially treated human sewage entered the river from the Pukete wastewater treatment plant in July last year.

The discharge was caused by a mechanical failure, alarm settings and an overflow pipe blockage.

The Waikato Regional Council launched a prosecution and the city council pleaded guilty to a charge of discharging contaminants into the river.

Sentencing was deferred for a restorative justice conference to be carried out before yesterday's hearing.

Karina McCluskie, for the city council, said that from that conference came the suggestion that the city council would pay for plantings along the river.

The council promised the planting and fencing - which would be carried out as far north as Turangawaewae - would start in spring next year. The Waikato Regional Council did not seek costs.

Judge Harland, who described the incident as an "unfortunate event" said there was no point in the city council paying a fine, which she likened to taking from "Peter to effectively pay Paul", with one set of ratepayers paying the other.

She said the cost of the restorative planting was about the same price as a fine and it was a better use of community money.

Waikato Regional Council investigations manager Patrick Lynch said the result was a "really solid outcome".

He now hoped other territorial authorities would learn from the prosecution and take a good look at their wastewater systems and processes to ensure they were operating correctly.

The $37,500 was the largest fine that had been handed down in recent times, he said.

The Hamilton City Council's general manager of infrastructure, Chris Allen, apologised for the spill.

"We have a great respect for the taonga that is the Waikato River, and are pleased that part of our fine will see fencing and riparian planting improvements made alongside it."

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- Waikato Times

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