Rodney Vassallo has pleaded guilty to three charges after he deposited construction waste along a 170-metre stretch on the banks of Constant Creek and into waters backing onto his Mount Jukes property. He says he did to to counter erosion issues.
Rodney Vassallo has pleaded guilty to three charges after he deposited construction waste along a 170-metre stretch on the banks of Constant Creek and into waters backing onto his Mount Jukes property. He says he did to to counter erosion issues.

Cane farmer says he dumped building scraps to fight erosion

A magistrate has adjourned the case against a third generation Mackay cane farmer who polluted a popular fishing spot with construction waste so environmental officers can inspect the location.

Rodney Victor Vassallo, through his barrister, told a court he had taken steps to clean up the 180 to 320 tonnes of demolition scrap he deposited over a 170-metre stretch at Constant Creek.

The scraps included bricks, concrete blocks with reinforced steel bars and PVC piping.

Mackay Magistrate Court heard he had placed the construction debris along the banks - that backed onto his Mount Jukes property - and into the water in a bid to try and prevent further erosion.

Rodney Victor Vassallo pleaded guilty to depositing construction and demolition waste in Constant Creek waters that back his Mount Jukes property.
Rodney Victor Vassallo pleaded guilty to depositing construction and demolition waste in Constant Creek waters that back his Mount Jukes property.

 

More stories:

Driver in Nilly case learns if jail term will be slashed

CQ man jailed over 28th domestic violence breach

The offending occurred over seven months from June 2019 to January 2020.

The Department of Environment and Science was pushing for a $40,000 fine after Vassallo pleaded guilty to three offences: wilfully and unlawfully cause environmental harm, unlawfully deposit a prescribed water contaminant in waters and carry out assessable development without a permit.

But Magistrate Damien Dwyer pointed out the maximum penalty for the charges was $1.4m and questioned why he was being asked to impose a fine of less than 2 per cent of that total amount.

Defence barrister Stephen Byrne, who described Vassallo as a "responsible cane farmer, said the 49 year old had lived at the property his entire life.

The court heard the area had been eroding for many years, accelerating in the past 10 years, sparking concern from the cane farmer.

Mr Byrne said his client estimated he had lost about 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) of land to erosion.

Rodney Vassallo
Rodney Vassallo

 

The court heard once DES confronted him, he stopped immediately and made admissions.

Mr Byrne said Vassallo, with help from Mackay Canegrowers, commissioned Reef Catchments to prepare a remediation and safety plan in December 2020.

The court heard as part of that plan "all of the high environmental risk material", which also included builder's plastic, PVC piping and electrical cabling as well as the bricks and concrete blocks, had been removed.

Mr Byrne said the low-risk waste that still remained would "likely" be covered with mud or break down over time from erosion.

More stories:

Father of two critically injured in drug-driving crash

Judge's ruling over Mackay turtle kill case

He pushed for a fine between $20,000 and $30,000 with no convictions recorded, arguing his client was highly regarded by his peers.

Mr Dwyer said he accepted Vassallo was a "good guy" with no criminal history and had no issue with not recording convictions, but said his issue was with the monetary penalty.

"If parliament says it's serious enough to put a maximum penalty of $1.4m, the courts have got to take that into account," Mr Dwyer said.

The court heard Vassallo did not receive a financial benefit for taking the construction waste - it was accepted he regarded it as "opportunistic".

"In addition to any monetary penalty Mr Vassallo will also be publicly shamed for his behaviour, for which he is embarrassed," Mr Byrne said.

DES was also seeking $4415.77 for legal and investigation costs.

Mr Dwyer adjourned the case until the end of the month to allow environment officers to inspect the property to check if the remedial steps had been taken.

Subscriber benefits:

How to activate your free Courier-Mail subscription

How to get Daily Mercury news straight to your inbox

Your dose of Harry Bruce cartoons



Celebrity chef kitchen a huge hit at Beef 2021

Premium Content Celebrity chef kitchen a huge hit at Beef 2021

The pop-up venue located in the centre ring has served more than 1000 meals with...

BREAKING: Teen suffers suspected back injury in Causeway fall

Premium Content BREAKING: Teen suffers suspected back injury in Causeway...

The ambulance is rushing to the beach access at the popular fishing spot.

‘Cow on the road’: traffic chaos on way to Yeppoon

Premium Content ‘Cow on the road’: traffic chaos on way to Yeppoon

Motorists are warned of an unusual traffic hazard