SHARE

By GUY WILLIAMS

A former┬áDominion Constructors employee is facing a $38,000 fine after “taking the rap” for the cutting of steel reinforcing bars during the construction of Queenstown’s Kmart building.

Jason Buehler, who’s now living in Canada, was to have been sentenced in Queenstown’s court on Wednesday on one charge laid under the Building Act of carrying out building work in breach of a consent.

But Judge John Strettell’s adjourned his final sentence until Buehler provides a statement of his ability to pay the fine.

Buehler was the on-site project manager for the construction of the 4000sqm building in Frankton’s Queenstown Central shopping centre in 2018.

On or before August 2 of that year, steel reinforcing known as ‘starter bars’ embedded in the building’s concrete floor were cut and new ones installed when it was found they didn’t line up with junctions in a pre-cast concrete wall.

The faulty work, which could have led to the building collapsing in a fire or earthquake, was reported to the council on August 3 by a whistleblower.

The store’s opening was delayed and the council issued a ‘notice to fix’ while it began investigating.

City Hall’s lawyer Nathan Speir said it was the first time a prosecution of its type had been made under the Building Act for a commercial building.

It’s not clear who cut the more than 60 starter bars, and a case of “he said, she said” about who directed the work to be done.

Regardless, it “happened on his [Buehler’s] watch”.

The defendant was “quite candid” with the council during its investigation, and had provided a formal statement that could be used as evidence during the trial for Dominion Constructors.

It faces the same charge, which is denied.

Buehler’s lawyer, Tanya Surrey, said he “didn’t direct it, he didn’t know about it and he didn’t do it”.

“He didn’t even know this had happened until the whistleblower went to the council.”

But he admitted it, believing he had to “take the rap”, and because he understood it would lead to a smaller fine.

Strettell said the case was significant because of the issue of public safety.

“People need to know the building they’re in is safe and compliant, and have confidence in the manner in which they’ve been built.”

It wasn’t clear if Buehler’s actions were a case of “wilful blindness” or a failure of supervision, he said.

But there would have been pressure to avoid referring the problem to the project’s engineers, leading to more costs and delays.

The bar cutting wasn’t an isolated issue – there were earlier problems during the project, Strettell said.

“There were warning bells prior to this work that should have alerted management to be cautious, and to have a heightened awareness of their responsibilities.”

guy.williams@scene.co.nz