Ditchfield pays big after employee forgets to turn off fuel line in council tip

CIVIL and mining contractor Ditchfield must pay $105,000 to an environmental trust fund after a major diesel spill at a council tip when an employee forgot to turn off a fuel tap.

The company pleaded guilty to an offence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act after more than 2700 litres of diesel overflowed from a bulk fuel container at Summerhill waste management facility at Wallsend on September 3, 2016.

The spill occurred after an employee left fuel running into a truck for more than an hour after leaving the area to work on another part of the site.

More than 1500 litres of fuel left an area where Ditchfield was building a new landfill cell and spread to Newcastle City Council land before entering a creek.

Ditchfield immediately notified the council, which reported the spill to the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

NSW Land and Environment Court Justice Brian Preston noted Ditchfield immediately initiated attempts to contain the spill and remediate the site, including using an excavator and shovels to create earth bunds. In the days after the spill the company undertook extensive remediation work in the creek.

Justice Preston accepted the evidence of experts that actual harm to the environment was low and duration of the harm caused by the spill was short. But such a spill was reasonably foreseeable, he said.

He ordered Ditchfield to pay $105,000 to an environmental trust in lieu of a fine, and noted the company’s “genuine remorse” for the offence.