Judge defers fine for discharge

A $21,000 fine imposed on the Clutha District Council for a sewage discharge has been deferred until November 21.

During a sentencing hearing at the Dunedin District Court last week, Judge Brian Dwyer set the fine for a prosecution brought under the Resource Management Act by the Otago Regional Council, for the incident in Balclutha on October 10 last year.

However, questioning the usefulness of one set of ratepayers putting money ``into the pockets'' of another, Judge Dwyer ordered the two councils to discuss how the penalty could be used for the public good, in an ``environmental project''.

During the overflow at Hasborough Pl, 18 to 19 cubic metres of wastewater, including human waste and toilet paper, were discharged via the stormwater system into the Clutha River alongside the Balclutha bridge.

A ``fat build-up'' was to blame, Clutha District Council service delivery manager Jules Witt said and, although work was under way to reduce their future likelihood, recurrences remained unpredictable.

Elsewhere in the country, councils had consent to cover occasional discharges of this sort, and this helped avoid prosecution as the primary step, he said.

``Nobody wants to see [discharges] happening, so we would have preferred to have received an infringement notice and discussed remedial measures with Otago Regional Council in the first instance, rather than going down the prosecution route.''

The prosecution had impaired Clutha's relationship with ORC, he said, although both parties had since held ``constructive'' discussions on a way forward.

Part of that process could include applying for a discharge consent.

Other work included the identification of 36 ``high risk'' sites where improved monitoring and alarm systems would be introduced, and public education around blockage issues like wet wipes.

Given the now improved communication with ORC, Mr Witt said he hoped future fines could be avoided.

ORC chief executive Sarah Gardner said she was happy with the judge's interim conclusions, and the council would continue to work with Clutha until final sentencing occurred.

``We're happy to enter into discussions ... to identify a suitable environmental project in the district.''

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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