The Chinese director of a gold mining company cannot claim a lack of understanding as a factor that led to unauthorised excavation of a West Coast stream bed, an Environment Court judge has ruled.
Judge Craig Thompson fined the company, Crescent Creations, $17,000 at its sentencing at the Christchurch Court House.
He said: “If the company did not understand the resource consent, then it is the defendant’s problem and nobody else’s.”
He ruled that 90 percent of the fine should be paid to the West Coast Regional Council which brought the prosecution after finding the excavation in February 2016.
Crescent Creations had pleaded guilty to the Resource Management Act charge of breaching its resource consent when it carried out the excavations, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of a $600,000 fine.
Counsel for the company, Hans van der Wal, said that the company director, Yang Wang, “genuinely did not know he wasn’t authorised under the consent to do these particular works”.
He contested the counsel’s suggestion that it had been a deliberate breach of the resource consent issued to the company, which allowed work only on the “dry bed” of the Waimea Stream, which is between Greymouth and Hokitika. There was no evidence of Wang’s knowledge and understanding of the consent, or any deliberate decision to contravene the consent.
There were difficulties about language, he said. Wang had an interpreter with him in court.
Wang did not own the company at the time the consent was issued, and Mr Van der Wal said: “The consent leaves a lot of room for confusion.”
But Judge Thompson said the work was deliberately done, even if it was not “deliberately done with the intent of causing damage”. He noted the issue was acknowledged in the defence submissions which said: “The defendant company’s management simply did not do enough to ensure compliance.”
Council prosecutor Heather McKenzie said a series of infringement notices and an abatement notice about other matters had been issued to the company in the year before the excavation that led to the prosecution. Wang had been present on the day when the digger operator carried out the excavations that dug up nearly 290m of the stream bed, forming a wall alongside.
A flood event soon after filled it in again, but the excavation would have made the riverbed more porous, exacerbating the loss of flow from that section of the river, said the judge.
The hearing was told that Wang was continuing gold mining operations with another company, Gold River Mining, at Waimea Creek and at Kumara.
Mr Van der Wal said: “There is no evidence that there was any real, significant adverse effect on either the base line flows, or the water quality downstream. Before any work started, there was a long stretch of dry main channel, and after that there was a long stretch of dry main channel which had some excavation in it.”
The court was told that the resource consent authorised the company to carry out excavation “on the dry river bed or the flood plain”.
Miss McKenzie said the company had complied with the investigation and immediately carried out rehabilitation work. “The river bed has partly been remediated naturally through a flood event.”