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Fined $68k for diverting river

East Coast earthworks business Kuru Contracting, the company's managing director and its operations manager have received fines totalling $68,500 for Resource Management Act offending.

They were convicted and sentenced this week in Gisborne District Court by Environment Court judge Brian Dwyer after previously pleading guilty to charges laid by Gisborne District Council that between October 10, 2018 and August 9, 2019, they dammed or diverted water (Kopuaroa Stream) and modified a wetland without resource consent.

A maximum penalty of up to $300,000, or two years imprisonment, applies for individuals; for companies the penalty is up to $600,000.

The company and managing director Ricky Thomas Kuru were each fined $24,500. Operations manager Te-rangi Matanuku Parata was fined $19,500.

The starting points for the fines — $70,000 for Kuru Contracting together with its managing director and $30,000 for Parata — were advocated for by council prosecutor Adam Hopkinson.

Mr Hopkinson said the penalties needed to be personally deterrent in light of comments the pair made to the council about the offending, but also a deterrent to others.

“Just because the East Coast is a relatively remote area does not mean the Resource Management Act does not apply,” Mr Hopkinson said.

The offending was commercially motivated, designed to enable Kuru Contracting to continue accessing the quarry in the winter when the stream would normally prevent it, and contrary to its intended October to May work period stated during the consent process (but not a consent condition).

The company holds a resource consent to extract 35,000 cubic metres of shingle annually from the Waiapu River at a property next to the river.

It pays the property owner for quarrying and access rights.

The quarry access road is off Waiomatatini Road and crosses Kopuaroa Stream about 1.5 kilometres from its convergence with the Waiapu River.

On October 10, 2018, a council compliance officer noticed a shingle bund (embankment) installed in the river. The creation of the bund was not permitted by the consent.

Parata did not respond to an email about the concern.

In May 2019, he and Kuru undertook unconsented earthworks on the property to divert the stream away from the point where the access road used to cross it, and causing it to flow through a 380-metre channel that emptied into the Waiapu River in a westerly direction.

This meant 1.5km of the stream's natural course between the point of diversion and its original convergence with the river abruptly dried up.

The diversion directed water towards a wetland area, causing ponding and flooding near the quarry.

To reduce that, Parata and Kuru excavated another channel — about 200 metres long and three metres wide — through the wetland area.

An ecologist's report said the activities caused significant adverse effects on the wetland and stream, including sediment pollution to each.

The wetland, while not regionally significant, was nonetheless an important feature.

Wetlands in the Gisborne region have reduced to 1.75 percent of their original extent, making them a highly-threatened ecosystem.

The stream is identified in the Tairawhiti regional plan as a significant habitat and migratory route for indigenous fish, including at-risk species.

Fortunately, it was not too late to remediate the situation, the ecologist said.

Mr Hopkinson initially asked the court to issue an order for Parata and Kuru to do that remediation but withdrew the application after Judge Dwyer said he could not issue it as they were not the property owners.

Mr Hopkinson said the council would now work with that person (who was in court to support the defendants) to have the channel closed, stock removed and the wetland replanted.

Calculating the fines, Judge Dwyer gave Kuru and Parata each a 25 percent discount for their guilty pleas.

Parata received a 5 percent discount for previous good character but Kuru Contracting and Kuru were subject to previous abatement notices, so did not qualify.

The judge said he had not intended to give any discount for remorse but having heard from counsel Paul Harman and from Parata, who personally addressed the court, he would give each defendant an additional credit of 5 percent.

Parata apologised for remarks to council officers, saying he was frustrated that the council often seemed to be disabling rather than supporting economic progress on the East Coast, an area he said could do with “far more positive things”.

They had not set out to intentionally destroy or cause environmental harm, and were not aware the area was a wetland. It was not obvious.

Mr Harman told the court Kuru Contracting employed 80 people and was well regarded in the local community, especially for its contribution to the clean-up of forestry debris at Tolaga Bay.

The notion they were going to make a large amount of money out of the three months over winter was wrong.

There was minimal profit involved and it was not a situation where they stood to get a commercial advantage over some other company, Mr Harman said.

His clients had learned a lot from this experience about RMA compliance and relationship-building with the council.

The company had since nominated someone to upskill in that area on company time.

Diverted: The illegal channel and shingle bund that forced the Kopuaroa Stream west of its natural course. Pictures supplied