Council seeking hefty fine for company after oil spill into Tauranga Harbour
A Bay company is facing a hefty fine after almost 150 litres of hydraulic oil spilled into the Tauranga Harbour.
Specialised Container Services (Tauranga) Limited was due to be sentenced in the Environment Court at Tauranga on Monday after it earlier admitted a charge of discharging a contaminant on to land which ended up entering a waterway.
The maximum penalty charge is a $600,000 fine.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council prosecution relates to the discharge of about 150 litres of hydraulic oil from the defendant’s Sulphur Point Wharf site, leased from the Port of Tauranga.
The oil was spilled from a container handler operated by the defendant company on or about September 21-22 last year into a nearby stormwater catchpit.
From there, the oil flowed into for the the Tauranga Harbour, the heard.
The council’s investigation on the day of the discharge established that the hydraulic lift hose on the container handler had blown off on three separate occasions.
Due to these malfunctions and repairs being undertaken, about 150 litres of Shell Spirax S3 TLV hydraulic oil was discharged, the court heard.
A council officer visited the site after public complaints and found a light oil sheen in the water under the western side of the Tauranga Harbour Bridge.
The council’s lawyer, Adam Hopkinson, told Judge David Kirkpatrick that at no stage did anyone from the company report the spills to the Port of Tauranga or the council.
Nor did anyone take steps to clean up any of the spilt hydraulic oil until council officers intervened, he said. court
Hopkinson said the council investigation also found that the defendant had no documented procedures for dealing with spills at its site.
The discharge had adversely affected the harbour and the oil was expected to persist in the harbour for one to two years before it biodegraded, the court heard.
It was an important habitat for eight vulnerable coastal birds such as the dotterel and oystercatcher, and also has significant cultural value to Tauranga Moana iwi, he said.
Hopkinson said the council was seeking a fine starting at $50,000 before discounts for a guilty plea, remorse and any mitigating factors.
The company’s lawyer, Janette Campbell, argued the council’s starting point for the fine was too high, because there was no deliberate intent to not comply with its legal obligations.
There was moderate rainfall PHOTO / SUPPLIED that day, and the amount was sufficient to cause stormwater flows across the site that dispersed some of the spilt oil before it was contained, she said.
Campbell said this was a case where no one knew there had been a significant loss of hydraulic oil from the container handler until the reduced level was noticed by the company’s mechanic.
Staff were also unaware they should have reported the spill to the Port of Tauranga to get them to shut off the interceptor, she said.
She argued the company’s culpability was lower than the council suggested and a fine starting at $40,000 was more appropriate.
Campbell said Specialised Containers Services has undertaken several remedial steps, including refresher training for staff, and implemented daily and monthly checks.
Judge Kirkpatrick reserved his decision.
A Bay of Plenty Council officer examining the catchpit near the stormwater outlet that contains the shut off valve.