Waikato dairy company fined $137,000 for 'severe' smell

Open Country Dairy Limited in Waharoa.
Open Country Dairy Limited in Waharoa. Photo credit: Google Maps

A dairy processing company in the Waikato has been fined $137,000 for "discharging objectionable odour", and ordered to place $120,000 in a trust for the local community as a reparation for the "severe" impacts the smell caused those living nearby.

Waikato Regional Council said it received 109 complaints from 43 separate businesses and residents against Open Country Dairy Limited, located in Waharoa, near Matamata, between January 3 and February last year concerning the stench.

Hamilton District Court Judge Jeff Smith said the impacts of the odour were "severe, particularly for those people who may have had respiratory conditions already".

Details around the fine and reparation were released on Monday at the conclusion of the fifth environmental prosecution against the company. 

In passing his sentence, Judge Smith said the company’s infrastructure was "woefully inadequate" and that "the actions of the company were reckless and bordering on deliberate".

According to the Waikato Regional Council, victims described the odour as "nauseating", saying in some cases it triggered retching and vomiting and caused some to seek medical attention. 

"Some residents reported having to keep their homes and workplaces closed, and at the hottest time of the year," the council said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Others reported having to clean clothing and furnishings that the odour had permeated. Complainants also reported associated effects, such as feeling isolated because they felt they could not go outside, and economic impacts from fewer customers visiting local shops."

The establishment of the community trust was suggested by the company during the prosecution, Waikato Regional Council said, with the court setting the amount to be paid into it at $120,000.

"The purposes of the trust include assisting and promoting projects and facilities in the community, supporting people and organisations who operate to relieve poverty or advance education, and payment of actual out-of-pocket expenses for community members from the offending."

The trustees are members of the community along with a representative of the Waikato Regional Council. 

Patrick Lynch, regional compliance manager at the council, said the local community "has been made to put up with some pretty terrible experiences over the last decade or so from the operation of this company", and that the council had to put in a "disproportionate amount of regulatory resources" trying to get the company to improve its operations.

"We are aware that there has been significant investment in infrastructure on the site which does bode well for the future and in particular for the community. We sincerely hope this is the last time there are any avoidable environmental incidents that require this company to be brought before the courts."

In total the company faced five prosecutions by the Waikato Regional Council under the Resource Management Act.

  • October 2007: Open Country Cheese Company Ltd – convicted on 14 charges and fined $55,000 for objectionable odour.
  • July 2009: Open Country Cheese Company Ltd – convicted on one charge and fined $11,050 for unlawful discharge of contaminant into the environment.
  • August 2014: Open Country Dairy Ltd – convicted on one charge and fined $35,625 for objectionable odour.
  • October 2019: Open Country Dairy Ltd – convicted on three charges and fined $221,250 for objectionable odour and unlawful discharge of contaminant to the environment and also issued an Enforcement Order to cease objectionable odour.
  • September 2020: Open Country Dairy Ltd – convicted on one charge and fined $137,500 for objectionable odour and reparation of $120,000 to the community.