Aratu Forestry Limited sentencing decision released
Aratu Forestry Limited has been fined $379,500 on charges brought by Gisborne District Council following two rain events in June 2018.
Formerly called Hikurangi Forest Farms Limited, the company was sentenced on two charges under the Resource Management Act for discharging contaminants – logging debris, slash and sediment – to land in circumstances where it entered water.
Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer also ordered Aratu to pay emotional harm reparation to three victims totalling $125,000.
Council brought the prosecution against Aratu following its investigation of compliance issues arising from the June 2018 rain events.
Between June 3 and 4, large amounts of logging debris, slash and sediment collapsed from 83 skid sites at Aratu-owned Te Marunga Forest, 12 kilometres west of Tolaga Bay. Material that collapsed from skid sites in Te Marunga Forest affected the Mangatokerau valley and properties in the valley.
The second charge related to Aratu’s forest in Waimata – Wakaroa Forest. Between June 11 and 12, slash and sediment mobilised from the forest, inundating Uttings Bridge on Waimata Road and causing significant damage.
Aratu was fined $229,500 for its offending at Te Marunga Forest and $150,000 for its offending at Wakaroa Forest.
Judge Dwyer said a significant factor in his considerations was the known vulnerability of the environment in each forest.
“Two thirds of this forest is situated on land which is very highly susceptible to erosion, in some cases being the most vulnerable land to erosion in the district or region. Additionally, the rain events which had brought about the discharges occurred at a time in the period shortly after harvest.
“Forest operations on such land have to be undertaken with great care and in absolute compliance with codes of practice and conditions of resource consent, but a high degree of risk still remains.”
Judge Dwyer said the possibility the area could be subject to extreme weather should have been well known, and similar events in recent years had led to the mobilisation of forestry debris.
“Even adopting best practice there is a real risk of incidents such as this happening on steep, highly erodible land which has been stripped of tree cover. The fact is that forest harvesting on these slopes is a high risk operation in terms of its affect on land stability. Aratu has taken the risk in this instance and predictable consequences have resulted.”
Council’s director of environmental services and protection Helen Montgomery says the Court’s sentencing decision sends a strong message to the forestry industry about the importance of managing environmental risks, complying with resource consents and adhering to the Forest Owners Association Environmental Code of Practice.
For further information, read the full sentencing decision [PDF, 2.4 MB].