The survival of a sinking marae

By Te Ao with MOANA
Te Ohaaki Marae in Reporoa has sunk more than three metres due to activity at the nearby Contact Energy-owned Ohaaki Geothermal Power Station.  Photo/File.

Many marae across the country are affected by elements such as fire and climate change, but Te Ohaaki Marae in Reporoa is one of the few marae that has been slowly sinking due to steam extraction at the nearby Contact Energy-owned Ohaaki Geothermal Power Station. 

“The power station has had a big impact on us,” says Dorothy “Dotty” Raroa, a trustee of Tahorakuri A1 Sec 1 Reservation Trust. “Since the commencement of the power station our land has sunk up to 2013 by 3.7 metres, particularly our marae.  Our lands and geothermal energy have been used for the national good.”

Seven years ago, a decision was made for the marae to stay, despite its gradual descent and strong support from whānau to move.

“The thought of relocation for some was a separation from our tūrangawaewae and what we know as our home because our tūpuna and our elders chose this land for a reason, and we have urupā all over our lands,” Raroa says.

Contact Energy is working with iwi to address the impact of geothermal generation activities on the marae and surrounding whenua.  Photo/File.

“As part of our mitigation agreement, and certainly the biggest thing for our trust, Contact Energy resource consent and through the environmental hearing, their job was a requirement to ensure the safety of our marae. Our whānau had a 20-year conversation about how we were going to look after our marae.”

In 2016 whānau members took marae trustees to the Māori Land Court. They did not agree with their trustees supporting Contact Energy’s plan to build a flood protection wall near the marae. The claim was dismissed and the ordeal caused friction between whānau.

“This has cost our whanaungatanga because we went to court. I think that if we had our own tikanga, we would have just had a hui at our pā, no need for any money to be paid but go to ourselves. These are some of our bigger lessons,” she says.

Today, Contact Energy works in partnership with Ngāti Tahu and Ohaaki Marae to address the impact of geothermal generation activities on the marae and surrounding whenua.

"We acknowledge the significant impact our operations have had on local iwi and we've worked really hard to rebuild a positive relationship and address the concerns of the whānau there," says Chief Generation and Development Officer James Kilty.

“Today, both partners are able to raise concerns and find ways to address them. We’ve also learned a lot from our relationship with Ngāti Tahu, and we’re still learning and we're also sharing."

In 2017, Contact Energy and whānau from Ngāti Tahu took their learnings and spent 12 months helping power company KenGen and Maasai communities establish a sustainable partnership to co-manage geothermal resources in Kenya. A year later, Ngāti Tahu and Contact Energy were awarded the 2018 US Energy Association Corporate Volunteer Award for the project.

Representatives of the company and the iwi recently visited Kenya to continue sharing their ongoing experience.

Article by Aroha Awarau for Te Ao with Moana.