Discount for polluter stuns neighbour

A view showing the extent of a blaze in a carbon forestry block near Livingstone in North Otago...
A view showing the extent of a blaze in a carbon forestry block near Livingstone in North Otago in 2020. PHOTO: STU JACKSON
A carbon farming business which was recently fined for "carelessly" spraying indigenous wetlands and native forests was almost charged with a similar offence a decade ago.

NZCF (invest 1) Ltd, trading as New Zealand Carbon Farming (NZCF), pleaded guilty to charges related to damaging indigenous vegetation and wetlands from aerial spraying at a property near Livingstone, North Otago, on several occasions in 2021.

Environment Court Judge Kelvin Reid ordered the company to pay $40,000 in reparations to the Waitaki District Council and the Otago Regional Council — the amount had been discounted from $70,000 for an expression of remorse and previous good behaviour.

The maximum penalty for such a breach is $600,000.

But Murray Smith, who used to farm beside the property, said he was "flabbergasted" by this decision.

"New Zealand Carbon Farming are a joke.

"They completely nuked the property in 2013, causing runoff that killed neighbours’ vegetation where spray ran down creek beds.

"All vegetation on the property was destroyed at that time."

Mr Smith said he was amazed NZCF could get a discount for good behaviour based on its past actions.

"It doesn’t seem right to me."

A Waitaki District Council spokesman confirmed there had been a previous incident.

"The council endeavours to work with landowners to achieve compliance when alleged non-compliance with our district plan rules is detected.

"This is the approach taken in 2013 with NZ Carbon Farming in relation to the establishment of a carbon forest near Livingstone.

"Unfortunately, NZ Carbon Farming carried out non-compliant activities in breach of our district plan rules again in 2021. A number of enforcement criteria were used to assess the level of offending and one of those was the previous non-compliance identified in 2013.

"Appropriately, the decision was made to prosecute NZ Carbon Farming for the 2021 breach."

The actions amounted to the "highest levels of carelessness", Judge Reid said.

NZCF’s conduct showed a lack of care and a "serious disregard for its environmental obligations", he said.

The district council said NZCF’s actions were "highly careless", while the regional council said the actions were "highly reckless".

The regional and district councils submitted about six separate sites of native wetlands were adversely affected by the spraying, totalling more than 16,000sq m.

Judge Reid also noted NZCF had undergone significant restoration work since the spraying occurred, which included native planting.

Farmer Alistair Gibson, who now owns the property neighbouring Fairview Forest, said he felt NZCF were a "bit hard done by" by their conviction over the latest incident.

"You can’t really see the damage.

"It seems like a lot of bureaucratic rubbish to me. They were trying to do the right thing by spraying and cleaning up the area."

An NZCF spokesman said the owner had invested in and was undertaking a comprehensive remediation, mitigation and enhancement plan to fully remediate the damage from the 2021 spraying and was working with expert ecologists and the councils to achieve that.

"This will ultimately provide an overall improvement of the native area within the estate."