HOPLEY Recycling and two of its directors have avoided conviction after pleading guilty to a combined 51 charges for breaches of the Environment Protection Act.
The White Hills company was fined $7500 with $17,000 in court costs, while directors Kenneth Hopley and Justin Hopley were placed on 12-month good behaviour bonds.
They were sentenced in the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, where 15 of the original 66 charges were withdrawn.
The charges stemmed from a series of EPA inspections from 2013 to 2015, and the company’s failure to adhere to clean-up notices for storing industrial waste on land not licensed by the EPA to accept it.
The court heard Hopley Recycling was given “verbal permission” by the City of Greater Bendigo in 2008 to use some of the council’s land to store the recycled waste.
The EPA became involved in 2013 and issued a clean-up notice, which had the wrong address. A second notice was issued soon after, giving the company until the end of 2013 to remove the material.
An inspection in December 2013 found the company was storing material recycled from the demolition of the Kerang Hospital on the land.
A third clean-up notice was issued in January 2014 to include the new offending, giving Hopley Recycling until February 2015 to comply.
The company adhered to the notice, the court was told.
But in August 2014, the EPA was told of more material being transported to the site.
An EPA inspector followed a Hopley vehicle from the site of a demolished building on Prouses Road in North Bendigo, to the recycling site on Powell Street in White Hills.
The EPA sent a letter to Hopley Recycling, which acknowledged the breach.
A further letter was sent when the EPA noticed piles of concrete on the site.
This time, Mr Hopley declined to be interviewed by EPA officers and said the concrete was stockpiling because of “limited space on the adjoining premises”.
Another inspection in January 2015 found concrete stockpiling on the site, while an inspection in June 2015 found piles of timber waiting to be processed.
The EPA requested Hopley Recycling produce documents in January 2016, which it did not comply with.
The site has since been cleared and there are no outstanding issues, the court heard.
Defence counsel Scott Johns said the issues stemmed from a lack of storage space on company’s site, and processing equipment being unavailable for periods of time.
He said Hopley Recycling was renowned in the region for its work in recycling industrial material, and the charges could be described as “overreach”.
“They were the pin-up boys for recycling in this part of Victoria,” Mr Johns said.
“It all seems to change when a competitor gets in the ear of council. And then the EPA comes in.”
He said the company did not deserve a “black mark” against its name, and the company had last week offered to clean up other illegal waste dumped on the former White Hills tip site.
EPA prosecutor Jane Sharp said it had been a long-winded saga for all involved.
“It’s essentially cleaned up today, but the history… it has taken a number of years for the site to cleaned up,” she said.
“There has been a level of cleaning up, then further depositing, then some cleaning up.”
Magistrate John Doherty said they were not deserving of convictions for the breaches of the Act.
Hopley Recycling was fined $7500 and ordered to pay $17,000 in court costs.
Directors Kenneth Hopley and Justin Hopley were placed on 12-month good behaviour bonds.
They declined to comment on the matter outside of court.