By STEVE GRAY
A FARCICAL court case will leave Tenterfield ratepayers out of pocket after a prosecution over noise at the Emu Creek Extreme Retreat backfired on the council.
Tenterfield Shire Council was prosecuting Blair Maxwell, owner of the extreme retreat, an off-road motorsport venue at Tabulam for trail riding, 4X4 driving, motocross and enduro activities.
Mr Maxwell is a councillor with the shire, but insists the case involved his business interests and had nothing to do with his civic duties.
Following years of noise complaints and sound monitoring, a council ranger monitored noise on the June long weekend and issued Mr Maxwell with two tickets for breaches of council’s noise regulations.
To this point the exercise had cost council over $60,500.
The matter ended up being heard in Tenterfield Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday 11 December.
Council then applied to change the original charges and the court was adjourned to allow lawyers for both sides to negotiate. The council then withdrew its charges.
General manager Lotta Jackson told the Southern Free Times that the matter was resolved after a process instigated by the magistrate.
“The proceedings against Mr Maxwell are to be withdrawn on the condition that he pays the individual penalty rate for the fines issued,” Ms Jackson said.
“Council as the prosecutor will then formally withdraw the charges and as a result is required by law to pay a measure of the defendant’s costs, with the agreed amount being less than the full cost of proceedings.
“The outcome has allowed council to pursue natural justice, while showing a zero tolerance policy for matters involving environmental pollution.”
“The case was withdrawn, so I’m innocent of anything,” Mr Maxwell said.
He said council had been “badgered” into the court action after a five-year campaign of complaints by nearby residents.
“Council is using everything in its arsenal against my business,” he said.
“There was no approach to me to negotiate an appropriate outcome,” Mr Maxwell said. “They were just dogged in their pursuit of a conviction which basically amounted to $400.”
Tenterfield Shire Council was represented by a Sydney barrister.
Mr Maxwell said the agreement ending the court action requires him to pay council the equivalent of the fine had their prosecution been successful – $400.
In return, the council agreed to drop the charges and pay a proportion of Mr Maxwell’s legal fees – $6000.
“It seemed a wiser thing to do, to reduce the legal fees for everyone, if this could be organised,” he said.
“It was a hell of a lot of money, from us and from the ratepayers’ kitty that was used, we feel, to harass our business.”
Observers estimate the cost to council of last week’s court hearings at $18,000 to $20,000.
“The council buggered it up, basically,” said an observer who asked not to be named.
“It’s an absolute catastrophe that the people of Tenterfield, the ratepayers, have to put up with this sort of rot,” said another who attended the court.
“In my way of thinking there should be an administrator in there to sort this whole council out.”
TENTERFIELD Shire Council has racked up a huge bill in its efforts to monitor noise at the Emu Creek Extreme Retreat.
From 2009 to the end of the 2012/2013 financial year a total of $60,521.36 has gone towards sound monitoring, according to council documents.
This total does not incorporate costs since July 1, 2013 which include the cost of the failed court case against the retreat and its owner Blair Maxwell.
Council has spent $9200 on wages, $2500 on plant, $1500 on equipment, $22,100 on sound technicians, and $25,600 on legal costs leading up to, but not including, the 11 December failed prosecution.