Gisborne District Council v PF Olsen Ltd

Geographical Area
New Zealand
Case Name
Gisborne District Council v PF Olsen Ltd
Case Reference
[2020] NZDC 19089
Name of Court
District Court of New Zealand
Key Facts
In June 2018, heavy rain caused a significant amount of forestry slash, logs, waste and sediment to enter catchments near the town of Tolaga Bay in New Zealand. The deposit of forestry debris in the river system blocked the Mangatokerau River. This caused the flooding of properties and houses which threatened lives, as well as destroying houses, buildings, infrastructure, and livestock.

The debris was caused by multiple forestry contributors. However, this case refers to only one of them: Paroa Forest, owned by Permanent Forests Ltd, but managed by PF Olsen. Although it was possible that debris from Paroa Forest reached Tolaga Bay, it was not possible to quantify their contribution to the damage. For this reason, this case was limited to the damage caused by the discharge of sediment and logs from Paroa Forest to Paroa Station, a farm immediately downstream.

PF Olsen pleaded guilty to one charge under s.15(1)(b) of the Resource Management Act 1991. Under s.15(1)(b) no person may discharge contaminants (including slash, logging debris, waste logging material and sediment) onto or into land in circumstances which may result in those contaminants entering water.
Decision and Reasoning
The Court considered PF Olsen to have a high degree of culpability due to the inherent seriousness of the failure to comply with resource consents. They also noted that the substantial breaches of the conditions of their consent indicated poor forest management, demonstrated a disregard for the obligation to responsibly undertake harvesting operations and was a breach of common sense. The Court determined the starting point of the penalty to be NZ$200,000, roughly 33% of the maximum. They emphasised that this amount would have been much higher if Paroa’s contribution to the debris at Tolaga Bay could have been quantified.

The penalty amount was uplifted by 10% due to PF Olsen’s two previous convictions for Resource Management Act offending. The upper limit of uplift was suggested to be 33%, but was lowered given the lapse of time since the previous offence, similarity of offending, relative seriousness and number of offending incidents.

No discount was made for personal mitigating factors; however, a 10% discount for a last-minute guilty plea was awarded.
PF Olsen was ordered to pay NZ$198,000, less 10% Crown deduction, to the Gisborne District Council.

Of the 10 companies charged in the aftermath of the Tolaga Bay flooding, only five related to damage in Tolaga Bay or its catchment area. This included the owner of Paroa Forest, Permanent Forests Ltd. Although the charge against them was withdrawn, Permanent Forests has paid the owners of Paroa Station NZ$388,000 for the damage they suffered.
This case law summary was developed as part of the Disaster Law Database (DISLAW) project, and is not an official record of the case.