Fined for burning toxic waste on farm

A demolition company owner who threatened to bring his guns to a meeting at the Otago Regional Council offices has been fined for illegally burning material which gives off highly toxic fumes.

Clearwaters Otago Ltd and its director John Robert James Clearwater (56) have been fined a total of $16,125 after attempting to ''cut costs'' by burning demolition waste on Mr Clearwater's farm in Allans Beach Rd on Otago Peninsula, instead of taking it to the city's landfill.

The company and Clearwater were each convicted on two charges brought by the Otago Regional Council; one for discharging contaminants to air on August 23, 2013, by burning materials containing heavy metals, that were painted and had other coatings or plastics, contravening the Regional Plan: Air for Otago and the National Environmental Standard.

The second charge was for discharging contaminants, such as demolition waste including painted timber, metals, plastics, insulation and wiring, contravening the Regional Plan: Waste.

In the Dunedin District Court yesterday, Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer said Clearwater's actions were deliberate and planned as he was ''definitely'' aware of the rules which banned such burning.

''There was an element of defiance in the offending.''

An aggravating factor was the comment made over the phone to the enforcement officer that he would bring a gun to an interview at the council offices, even though the statement was later retracted, he said.

''The threat against a council officer doing his or her job is unacceptable to the court.''

A lack of up-to-date financial information on the company and Clearwater's own finances was concerning, Judge Dwyer said.

Further financial information was suppressed by the judge.

Regional council counsel Alastair Logan said Clearwater had been burning demolition waste at his farm despite repeated warnings from the council that it was illegal.

''Instead of disposing it at a proper landfill ... it wasn't done that way, to save costs.''

The landfill rules had been in place since 1997 and the air plan rules since 1998.

Mr Logan called for an ''uplift'' in fines for both parties, given the calculated defiance of the rules for commercial imperatives, the infringement notice issued previously for the same actions and the ''unfortunate'' incident between Clearwater and the enforcement officer.

Burning synthetic materials released toxic chemicals into the air, where they were easily inhaled.

The chemicals and dioxins could remain in the environment for a long time.

Counsel for Clearwater, Alex Cunninghame said there was no scientific evidence showing any harm was caused by the burning.

Since the incident, the material had been removed from the site and taken to the Green Island landfill.

Clearwater was continuing to remedy the site, she said.

The case had taken a ''significant personal toll'' on Clearwater and his wife.

Much of his behaviour and actions were born out of frustration which ''boiled over''.

The comments to the enforcement officer were not meant as a threat but more of an expression of that frustration, she said.

''He is very remorseful and has learnt his lesson.''

The judge fined Clearwater Contracting $9375 and ordered it to pay solicitors' fees $113, disbursements $267.46 and court costs $$130.

Clearwater was fined $6750 and ordered to pay solicitors' fees $113 and court costs $130.

Judge Dwyer ordered 90% of the fine should go to the Otago Regional Council.