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Pre-trial hearing date for forestry companies

A jury trial is drawing closer for two forestry companies charged in relation to major storm-induced slash damage at Tolaga Bay, last year.

At a call over in Gisborne yesterday morning, Environment Court Judge Melanie Harland scheduled a pre-trial hearing for Ernslaw One Limited and Timbergrow Limited, on February 20, next year.

The judge and the other parties involved — prosecutor Fiona Cleary and counsel Tim Condor, who represents both companies — appeared via AV-link.

Ernslaw One and Timbergrow each face two charges under the Resource Management Act — one of discharging contaminant forestry waste on to land or into water, and one of breaching a resource consent in the way land was cleared. The charges all relate to the companies’ activities at Uawa Forest, near Tauwhareparae, between June 2017, and June 2018.

Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of up to $600,000.

The pre-trial hearing and subsequent jury trial will be in Gisborne.

Fiona Cleary is prosecuting for the Crown.

A date for the trial is yet to be set. In June this year, Judge Harland remarked on the need to deal with the cases in a timely way. She was conscious affected parties were concerned at how long the court process was taking.

Thousands of tonnes of logs and smaller forestry detritus entered waterways, flooded on to land, and accumulated on and around Tolaga Bay Beach and other places in the region during extreme weather events on June 3 and 4 and June 11 and 12, last year.

One couple were forced to take refuge with their four-year-old granddaughter at 4am on the roof of their Mangatokerau Road house in northern Tolaga Bay. A nearby woolshed was washed away.

Contractors spent weeks clearing roads and farmers had to repair or replace fences and other structures wiped out by the debris that inundated and overran waterways in the area.

Last week, Juken New Zealand Limited was fined $152,000 and reprimanded by Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer for storm-induced damage to waterways by forestry slash from its Waituna Forest, in Wharerata, to the south of Gisborne.

The Gisborne District Council was also scolded by the judge for failing to conduct any regulatory inspections of resource consents it first issued for the forest in 2013.

At a call over ahead of that hearing, Judge Dwyer scheduled Hikurangi Forest Farms (now Aratu) for sentencing on February 17, for its admitted role in damage caused at Tolaga Bay.

The company is subject to a second prosecution in relation to Whakaroa Forest in the Waimata Valley.

Judge Dwyer said a two-week judge-alone trial would start immediately after that sentencing for companies charged in relation to damage attributed to activities at Makiri Forest, about 40kms northwest of Gisborne.

Those companies are A and R Logging Limited, DNS Forest Products Limited, South Pacific Forestry Holdings Limited, and Logic Forest Solutions Limited.