Northland farms escape fine for river pollution because they're broke

Companies that own two Northland farms fined $225,000 for allowing effluent to flow into a river won't pay a cent because they're broke.

While they'll pay nothing for what's being called one of the worst cases of dirty dairying, the Whāngārei District Council has had to fork out $50,000 on the prosecution.

Large amounts of untreated dairy effluent flowed across the two farms and into waterways that ended up in the Wairoa River and Kaipara Harbour.

Dennis Wright from the council brought a prosecution against Beejay Stud Limited and Clear Ridge Station Limited, owned by David Webster.

The companies were subsequently fined $225,000 in October 2016. But they never paid up, and it's likely they never will.

The council was back in court this week trying to recoup the funds, but it's been revealed the farms have been sold - and the two companies have no money.

"I think we're at a dead-end," Mr Wright says. "I think as far as pursuing the fine goes, we're flogging a dead horse."

The only one paying up is the regional council; ratepayers spent $50,000 to bring the prosecution.

The man who owned the companies, Mr Webster, told Newshub the farms were sold before the fines were issued. He says he tried to tell the council he'd never be able to pay the fine, which the council denies.

Mr Webster said after the banks were repaid, there was no money left - and he's now working as a farm manager.

He says he was under huge financial strain at the time, and inspectors had arrived just days after a major flood.

Court documents show the farm had a history of problems of non-compliance as far back as 2011.

In handing down the original fine in 2016, Whāngārei District Court Judge Craig Thompson said the breaches were as serious as any that he could recall dealing with.

He said the farm must have known its equipment and its usage were causing pollution.

Mr Wright says the result would disappoint the majority of Northland farmers.

The judge said the main reason for handing down a fine was to deter people from polluting the environment.

But the council says with that fine remaining unpaid that's unlikely to be the case, and they want the Ministry of Justice to be given more powers to force farms to pay up early.