Second win for chopper business

A LOCAL helicopter business had a win in court after its charge of using pesticides in a manner that damaged other property was withdrawn by the prosecuting body last week.

As trial proceedings began for Precision Helicopters in Tamworth Local Court on Wednesday and Thursday, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) withdrew its case against the company – for the second time on a similar charge, but on an unrelated matter.

The business, with bases in Barraba and Quirindi, will now seek costs for the time it spent defending itself in court.

Owner and operator, Mark Hodgson, said the case highlighted the unbalanced view between farmers trying to conduct their businesses and environmental protection legislation gone too far. 

Precision had been accused of damaging plant life near Bendemeer while it was contracted to spray and control noxious weeds at properties in the area at the beginning of last year.

It was alleged that leaves had been “browned” on the Halls Creek Rd as a consequence of Precision’s spraying job on January 1, 2011, but the defence for the business argued that they grew back and there was no lasting damage.

An independent expert from Sydney University had also vouched for the business, proving how resilient the Australian bush was and how it regularly undergoes “regrowth.” 

Mr Hodgson said the charge was proof of the “bureaucratic nightmare” farmers had to run their businesses by under the strict Native Vegetation Act.

Mr Hodgson, a third-generation farmer, believes such legislation is unbalanced.

“We’re not against environmental legislation but it still has a way to go,” he said. 

Sydney-based barrister Michelle Castle, who represented Precision Helicopters in the matter, said the charge had been a trivial one to begin with and was an example of the EPA “causing trouble.”

Ms Castle said the EPA had pressed on with the case despite the trivial charge and it followed on from a previous, similar charge by the same prosecuting body against Precision’s Port Macquarie business the year before.

Precision was accused of breaching the Pesticides Act on a job then, but the charge had also been withdrawn after a three day trial.

“It’s twice now they’ve tried and haven’t succeeded,” Ms Castle said.

She said the magistrate noted how threatening the charge could have been to the reputation of the company and hoped the EPA would note that in the future.

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