Sentencing adjourned in tyre mountain saga in High Court in Tauranga
More than 2000 tonnes of tyres were illegally stored in Kawerau and Waihi but those behind the massive stockpile are asking to avoid a conviction.
Hours before Alan Merrie, Angela Merrie and Jonathan Spencer faced the High Court at Tauranga on Monday for failing to comply with abatement notices, the last of the massive tyre mountain was finally removed from the Kawerau site ending a two-year saga.
"If we had not undertaken this case those tyres would still be there," Bay of Plenty Regional Council lawyer Adam Hopkinson said. "They buried their head in the sand."
The fact the tyres had been removed, at a personal cost of $250,000, was used as a mitigating factor by defence lawyer Fletcher Pilditch on behalf of Spencer, his client.
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Spencer, along with Alan and Angela Merrie, entered guilty pleas to two charges at the High Court in Tauranga for failing to comply with an abatement notice issued by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to remove the stockpile of tyres that became a fire and environmental hazard.
The trio had planned to establish a tyre recycling plant in Kawerau but, years later, no recycling plant was established and no tyres were processed.
In April 2015 more tyres were added to the pile when the company won a $286,235 tender to remove 1000 tonnes of tyres from a failed storage business in Hamilton.
However, due to missing its milestones with their current lease, they stored the tyres at a Waihi Beach Road quarry for three months.
As progress floundered in removing the tyres, and no assurances of obtaining the recycling technology needed to process the tyres, abatement notices were issued ordering more than 2100 tonnes of tyres on both sites to be removed by November 1, 2015.
On March 31 2016 only eight tonnes had been moved with the last of the tyres not removed until the eve of their sentencing.
Breaching an abatement notice carries a maximum penalty of a $300,000 fine or two years imprisonment but defence lawyers asked for a discharge without conviction stating a black mark on their clients' record could jeopardise future travel plans and involvement in other green energy ventures.
"It [a conviction] would be out of all proportion in relation to the offending," the defence lawyers said.
Hopkinson disagreed and said if abatement notices did not carry convictions their effectiveness to be used as deterrents would be diminished.
"People could simply think to just roll the dice," he said.
He also argued the trio had the means to comply with the abatement notice but had "buried their heads in the sand."
"I do not know why the $286,000 paid to the company by Hamilton City Council could not have been used to remove the tyres," he said.
Hopkinson suggested a starting point of $30,000 per offence be applied to each charge with only minimum, if any discount, awarded to the defendants.
Judge Kirkpatrick said there were many facets of this case that needed to be addressed and he reserved his decision until October 16.
The Merrie's have a history of failed waste-to-energy related businesses that have left investors here and overseas out of pocket. A Christchurch investor claims to be $840,000 out of pocket after a failed venture involving selling waste-to-energy plants in Poland, while a New York investor says he lost $450,000 in a similar venture.