29 Jun 2015

Court told Fonterra knew of dumping risks

8:56 pm on 29 June 2015

A court has heard that Fonterra knew full well the risks of dumping millions of litres of buttermilk waste at Eltham in 2013 and had other options to dispose of it.

Fonterra milk truck.

Fonterra has been charged with discharging odorous compounds in Eltham. Photo: RNZ

The dairy company is being tried in the New Plymouth District Court over the stench caused by discharging three million litres of buttermilk waste and 150,000 litres of milk contaminated with oil waste at the South Taranaki District Council's Eltham wastewater plant in October 2013.

The foul smell plagued the town for months and many residents have complained of its detrimental effects to their health.

The Taranaki Regional Council has laid a representative charge under the Resource Management Act covering the odour during the period 6 March to 16 May last year.

The regional council's director of environmental quality, Gary Bedford, said in evidence that Fonterra was aware that the covered treatment pond at Eltham did not work and had been decommissioned.

Mr Bedford also said the dairy company had a mechanism in its consents, which would have allowed the company to discharge the buttermilk from the outfall at its Whareroa plant at Hawera.

This was designed in part for "superflush" years when production was high and there was an excess of buttermilk waste, he said.

Earlier the court heard evidence from the South Taranaki District Council's operations and projects manager at the time of the incident, Vivian Eyberg.

He described how he was approached by Fonterra which was trying to get rid of a so-called buttermilk "superflush" caused by unusually high milk production in the spring of 2013.

Mr Eyberg said Fonterra told him it was desperate to find a solution for its buttermilk problem and had no other option for disposing it.

He took advice from consultants that led him to believe that the covered treatment pond at the Eltham wastewater plant could cope with the buttermilk and advised the council to accept the waste.

Mr Eyberg said he was simply trying to help Fonterra out of a difficult position.

The regional council's lawyer, Karenza de Silva, said Fonterra was trying to put the all of the blame for the rotting buttermilk stink on the South Taranaki District Council, when it had more expertise in the area.

Ms de Silva said Fonterra was the source and the dumper of the buttermilk and had a responsibility to make sure the district council could deal with the waste.

The South Taranaki District Council has admitted its role in the buttermilk debacle and was fined $115,000 in September last year.

Fonterra is yet to give evidence at the trial but, in the statement of agreed facts, its points of contention were:

  • Fonterra says that the buttermilk "superflush" was unexpected and it had no other options for disposing of it.
  • The dairy company argues that the statutory responsibility for the buttermilk and any stench caused by it lay with the South Taranaki District Council once it had accepted the waste product.

The trial before judge Brian Dwyer is set down for three more days.

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