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Resource management laws should be amended to increase infringement fines for sediment discharges, as an incentive for property owners to do the right thing by Wanaka waterways, the Otago Fish and Game Council says.

The News understands a Youghal St property owner has been fined by the Otago Regional Council, following a sediment discharge from stockpiled earth on April 12 into the much loved town centre waterway.

Previously, the ORC imposed a $42,500 fine on Winton Ltd for sediment discharges from Northlake subdivision into the Clutha River, and the fine was this year upheld by the Court of Appeal.

ORC general manager regulatory and communications manager Richard Saunders has declined to comment on enforcement action at Youghal St because a 15 day appeal period has not lapsed.

He confirmed an abatement notice had been served and the site is being regularly monitored.

Otago Fish and Game Council’s communications manager Bruce Quirey said Fish and Game wanted stronger infringement fee regulations under the Resource Management Act and stronger rules against sediment discharges in the ORC’s Land and Water Regional Plan.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council could also have done more to prevent the discharge in the first place, he said.

QLDC media adviser Sam White said the district council had reserved its position on enforcement action until after remediation is completed on the discharge site.

The QLDC had also issued an abatement not ice and was also regularly monitoring the site, he said.

The spring-fed creek’s source is on Otago Fish and Game land in Stone Street and it
meanders for 3.5km through a mix of public and private owned properties to its outlet near the Dinosaur Playground in Roys Bay.

Resource Management Act infringement fee regulations contain a schedule of fines from
$300 to $1000.

Mr Quirey said that range should be compared against the cost of land development or the profit to landowners and businesses.

“An infringement fee is usually a fraction of those amounts.

“Looking at it that way, an infringement fee may be a poor incentive to avoid contravening the Resource Management Act,” Mr Quirey said.

“The discharge looks like another case of too little, too late for our waterways”.
“Larger infringement fees may help to send a clear message, so other landowners don’t try to do a similar thing.”

Fish and Game officers, members of the public and Wanaka Community Board members warned the Queenstown Lakes District Council in March that Bullock Creek wasunder threat from soil dumped at the Youghal St site.

Steps taken to mitigate a discharge failed to stop contaminants entering the vulnerable waterway during a 12mm rainfall.

The site has been cleaned up but Mr Quirey said the damage was done.

“This is a spring creek unable to receive flushing flows to clean the sediment out.
“The impacts of this discharge will likely have long-lasting consequences,” he said.

Muddy waters . . . silt escaped into Bullock Creek this morning during a 12mm rainfall. the silt had been stockpiled on council land in Youghal St, and the QLDC had previously warned the property owner to stock pile on his own land and not let it escape. PHOTO: PAUL VAN KLINK/OTAGO FISH AND GAME COUNCIL

Mr Quirey said recent history in Wanaka showed sediment discharges were not uncommon.

“Fish & Game suspects sediment discharges happen a lot more than we hear about.
“Overly permissive or vague rules relating to water can make it difficult to stop people discharging sediment to water.  A good thing to do would be to ensure the soon-to-be-released Land and Water Regional Plan contains direct, strong rules about sediment discharge.

“Rules set in that plan should set the bar for how seriously people take sediment discharge for the coming decade or so,” he said.

Mr Saunders said the regional council responded to the Youghal St complaint on April 12, and abatement notice was issued on April 13, and the property owner took immediate action and installed sediment controls.

“We’re proactively monitoring the site during high rainfall to check compliance, there have
been no issues on these checks; and we’ll continue to monitor compliance.

“We’re continuing to work with the property owner in good faith and communicating with
them individually rather than in media.  We recognise that Bullock Creek is a treasured waterway for the community,” he said.

Mr Saunders also encouraged people to contact the ORC pollution hotline 0800 800 033 about sediment discharges, as happened in this case.

Muddy waters . . . silt escaped into Bullock Creek this morning during a 12mm rainfall. the silt had been stockpiled on council land in Youghal St, and the QLDC had previously warned the property owner to stock pile on his own land and not let it escape. PHOTO: PAUL VAN KLINK/OTAGO FISH AND GAME COUNCIL

Mr White said the district council monitoring and enforcement team had been in regular contact with the parties, including the ORC.

The district council was considering what enforcement action was appropriate regarding the
discharge and unlawful earthworks on council road reserve, he said.

“Reserving our position now enables us to consider all enforcement tools available and ensure that this issue is resolved in an appropriate manner.  It’s likely that appropriate enforcement action will be determined once this site has been fully remediated to our
expectations and any remaining matters have been addressed,” he said.

Mr White said the QLDC had engaged a suitably qualified and experienced person to install appropriate environmental controls to prevent any sediment discharges entering Bullock Creek.

“The successful operation of these environmental controls is dependent on no further
unapproved works being undertaken that may alter their effectiveness,” he said.