Ratepayers pay $200K legal fees over tyre dump

The Kawerau tyre dump before tyres were reomoved. Photo: Supplied.

Ratepayers forked out more than $200,000 in legal fees over the almost six years it took to resolve a 2000-tonne tyre mountain left behind when a recycling venture hit the skids.

Former EcoVersion directors, father and daughter Alan and Angela Merrie​, and Jonathon​ Spencer, were sentenced at Tauranga District Court on June 23 after pleading guilty to contravening or permitting contravention of an enforcement order under the Resource Management Act.

The Merries were each sentenced to 190 hours of community work, plus court costs and solicitor's costs, and were also ordered to pay $25,000 each towards the costs incurred by Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Spencer was ordered to pay a fine of $29,750, plus court costs and solicitor’s costs, as well as $25,000 towards the costs incurred by the regional council.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council told Stuff, in response to a Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act request, that it incurred $203,798.47 in legal fees “in order to secure compliance with the RMA on this matter”.

In an affidavit, Alan Merrie told the court they “foolishly put the cart before the horse, by beginning the process of tyre collection before we had the cash in the bank”.

In an affidavit, Alan Merrie told the court they “foolishly put the cart before the horse, by beginning the process of tyre collection before we had the cash in the bank”.

“This includes any advice relating to our initial response to the stockpiling, prior to charges being laid, costs associated with the first prosecution for contravention of an abatement notice, and the current matter relating to a breach of an enforcement order.”

The regional council also says their primary investigator spent 248 hours and 45 minutes dealing with this matter, “but I would note that does not include other staff who contributed to the case, in terms of initial response, and supporting the investigations and subsequent court actions”.

The saga began in 2015 when Hamilton City Council awarded a $280,000 removal contract to EcoVersion Ltd to take 150,000 tyres from the failed Frankton Tyre Yard.

EcoVersion failed to make good on its promise to start a tyre-recycling business in Kawerau and tyres started piling up with no recycling occurring.

In March 2018, EcoVersion was ordered by Judge David Kirkpatrick to remove tyres from Jason Hubbard’s yard in Kawerau.

They were required to be lawfully disposed of no later than April 30, 2018.

“That did not occur, and charges were filed,” said prosecutor Victoria Brewer.

At sentencing Brewer said the offending was “more than a technical breach of an enforcement order … [it was] a court directive, not an invitation”.

“This case highlights the difficulty end-of-life tyres pose for New Zealand, it isn’t easy [to dispose of them] and it’s expensive.”

The Merrie’s also sought to secure a discharge without conviction, though that was dismissed by Judge Prudence Steven.

“A breach of an order made by the court as part of a sentence for other offending is a serious matter.”

- Stuff/Benn Bathgate

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