Tyre fire earns farmer hefty fine

A Kaiwaka man has been fined more than $33,000 for burning dozens of large tyres on a property, south of Kaiwaka, in early January last year.

Bernard Glen Stewart, the lessee of the property, appeared for sentence before Judge DA Kirkpatrick in the Whangarei District Court earlier this month.

Stewart had earlier admitted three charges relating to the incident – discharging contaminants into the air from the burning of tyres, discharging contaminants (the remains of burnt tyres) to land, which may have seen the contaminants enter groundwater, and discharging contaminants (the remains of burnt tyres) to land in contravention of the Proposed Regional Plan for Northland.

Judge Kirkpatrick’s sentencing notes reveal firefighters responded to a call from a neighbour about a fire on the property, which Stewart uses for grazing livestock.

Firefighters found a smouldering pile with visible flames and smoke, an area of burnt material about 20 metres by 15 metres containing steel belts from tyres, as well as discovering the remains of 100 to 130 tyres, most of which were large radius and possibly truck or tractor tyres.

Large amounts of melted rubber and steel belting from tyres was noted along with some unburnt tyres, and about 13,600 litres of water were used to fully extinguish the fire.

Firefighters notified the Northland Regional Council about the fire and the council had also received complaints from nearby residents.

The court was told that when questioned by a council enforcement officer, Stewart said he had burned fence posts and wires, and general farm stuff, and that “a few tyres” might have been scorched.

A report by a council air quality specialist advised that burning tyres released significant quantities of hazardous air pollutants and produced large quantities of toxic oil, which can contaminate soil, surface and ground water.

In submissions for the defendant, his lawyer stressed Stewart had been cooperative with the council, “was engaged in remediation of the property and had paid for cleaning the roofs of neighbouring properties to address the potential effects on them”.

The judge said the production of thick smoke with associated noxious fumes should make any person realise that burning tyres was unlikely to be a permitted activity.

He said options for disposal did exist.

“In this case … these tyres could have been disposed of at the Kaiwaka transfer station, some eight kilometres from the property, at a cost of $25 a tyre plus any transport cost.”

The judge said relevant mitigating factors had included Stewart’s cooperation.

“While he did not immediately take responsibility, his subsequent efforts at remediation and his previous good character warrant a (sentencing) discount of five per cent. I accept the submissions of counsel that his early guilty pleas justify a discount of 25 per cent.”

The judge said on that basis a total starting point of $47,500 for all three offences was reduced to $33,250.

That was made up of $20,000 for the burning offence and $6625 for each of the burial offences. Court costs were also added on each charge. Ninety per cent of the fines will be paid to the regional council as prosecutor.