Fertiliser giant Ravensdown is defending a claim for at least $1 million in damages over orchard losses alleged to have been caused by acid and fluoride emissions from its plant at Awatoto, south of Napier. The hearing of the claim by orchardist Paddy Donovan, of Plumpton Park, an 11.3ha block at the corner of Awatoto and Brookfields roads, Meeanee, is set to start before Justice Richard Wild in the High Court in Napier on November 24.
It is scheduled to last more than a fortnight. The company had paid compensation for the year ended June 2004, but has refused to pay for the following two seasons -although compensation has been paid to neighbouring orchards for that period.
Relief sought by Mr Donovan includes $540,277 for direct losses of apple, pear and kiwifruit crops in 2005 and 2006, losses of $322,358 as a result of having to remove all kiwifruit plantings, general damages of $25,000 for distress and anxiety, and $50,000 in exemplary damages.
The total is expected to exceed $1 million with calculations for depreciation of property value, interest and costs of the claim. In November 2004, the company paid Mr Donovan $223,003.13, but says in its statement of defence the terms “expressly acknowledged’ that the payment did not constitute an “acknowledgement of liability’ on the part of the company.
Mr Donovan says that in January 2006, Ravensdown CEO Rodney Green promised it would pay for the 2005 year as soon as Mr Donovan provided spray diaries for that period but, after receiving the diaries, denied responsibility for any damage caused by its acid and fluoride discharge in that year.
However, he says neighbouring orchard Brookfield’s Farm was paid and compensation was also paid to three other orchards in the area. Remedial measures have been taken by the company since a resource consent hearing last year. Mr Donovan, who will be represented by David O’Connor, of Elvidge and Partners, Napier, argues Ravensdown acted with “a conscious, outrageous and flagrant disregard for the plaintiff’s rights.”
He says acid and fluoride discharges had damaged crops in the area for many years, Ravensdown was aware of the risks and failed to take appropriate precautions to prevent damage. The company, represented by Dunedin barrister Frazer Burton, says the January 2006 discussions were “without prejudice’.
In answer to an allegation that it failed to take all steps that a reasonable and competent neighbour should have, it argues that at all material times relative to the claim it acted to comply with its resource consent relating to its manufacturing processes to ensure other owners in the vicinity enjoyed unimpaired use of their properties.