Effluent charge prompts audit

Otago farmers have not experienced the "horrific" scenario alleged in Southland, of a compliance officer falsifying documents to prosecute for a non-existent effluent breach, Federated Farmers Otago president Stephen Korteweg says.

Mr Korteweg was asked to comment on an allegation that an Environment Southland compliance officer altered a document about effluent from a stock truck.

Mr Korteweg said anyone found to be guilty of such actions should face hefty fines similar to those imposed on convicted farmers.

'Farmers can be fined more than $50,000 for effluent wrong-doing," he said.

The allegation has led Environment Southland to order an independent audit of its compliance division, which should be completed by the end of the month.

Environment Southland chairman Ali Timms said the council was confident chief executive Rob Phillips was dealing effectively with the issues that had been raised.

"At this stage, we have a series of unproven allegations about one area of the council's operation, which our chief executive is investigating.

"We are confident that he is taking the right steps to establish the facts and that he has brought in an appropriate level of independent assistance.

"It would be completely wrong to pre-empt the results of those investigations, and we want him to remain focused on the issues that have been raised around compliance," Ms Timms said.

Mr Korteweg said although he was not aware of any such allegations in Otago, effluent from stock trucks was a major problem in the region.

He recently attended a meeting with police, Otago Regional Council and New Zealand Transport Agency officials about improving the situation.

Mr Korteweg said some Otago farmers did not take effluent breaches seriously and Federated Farmers was working hard to "build bridges" with the council.

"We are communicating a lot better than what we had been in the past, but farmers need to play the game as well.

"All in all, we have a good working relationship and will try to make it even better."

On October 17, the council approved a strategy to tackle the growing hazard caused by stock effluent on roads.

Councillors indicated harsher penalties could be imposed if farmers and truck drivers failed to take the strategy seriously and effluent spill remained a problem.

"There's always room for improvement and that's what we are working on, to get a better outcome for the community and environment," Mr Korteweg said.

rosie.manins@odt.co.nz