Dairy company fined for stink

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By MIKE MATHER

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 2km 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 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 larg­erthan- nor­mal vol­umes of waste end­ing up in the treat­ment pond.

The pond strug­gled to cope and the odour de­vel­oped, with the sit­u­a­tion tak­ing 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 would not com­ment on the fine.

‘‘It is the courts’ role to im­pose the penalty. We have re­sponded to com­plaints from the com- mu­nity. 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 from abat­toirs.

Un­law­fully dis­charg­ing ob­jec­tion­able odours is an of­fence un­der the Re­source Man­age­ment Act that car­ries 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 un­able to com­ment.

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