Contact Energy

Finalist
2014

Contact Energy and Ngāti Tahu worked together to develop a long-term mitigation plan to address the long-standing cultural and environmental impacts of the Ohaaki power station.

Contact acquired the Ohaaki plant and the lease over Ngāti Tahu lands from the Crown in 1996.  Operations up to that time had caused significant cultural and environmental impacts on Ohaaki Marae, the surrounding lands and its people. Land around the marae had subsided by about four metres, increasing its vulnerability to flooding.

Contact had already reduced the station’s operating capacity to a sustainable level – about half the original design capacity – but the damage had been done many years before.

The reconsenting of the station due in October 2013 provided the two groups an opportunity to really address the broader impacts the station had had on Ngāti Tahu. Contact says it was important the company demonstrated its commitment not only to mitigating those impacts but to providing solutions that would provide a building block for future generations of Ngāti Tahu.

Work formally started on an agreement in 2012. A cultural impact assessment was undertaken in May 2013 by independent consultants selected by Ngāti Tahu.

The assessment identified six areas that needed addressing: marae flood risk, land inundation, wetland change, damage to cultural sites and water quality, and disassociation of Ngati Tahu from their lands and taonga and the resulting harm to their tribal identity.

That was then overlain with a matrix of aspirations Ngāti Tahu wanted to achieve for its people and through its lands.[factfile]

Contact says robust engagement resulted in a long-term plan to repair and revive cultural sites in a process managed by Ngāti Tahu. The agreement provides for long-term, measurable tracking of progress and is institutionalised within the new 35-year consents for the plant.

The mitigation agreement focuses efforts on fixing communal baths, improving access to and restoring cultural sites as well as building intergenerational engagement and capability.

The marae flood risk was a complex situation that required ongoing discussion and negotiation to remedy. Contact and Ngāti Tahu worked together in developing a protection mechanism to reduce the risk of flooding to the marae and protect currently inundated land. Construction is due to commence in 2015.

Contact has also provided support for work done by Ngāti Tahu in protecting, beautifying and collecting oral history of the sites. This included assisting to recreate a steam hole for cooking in a traditional manner on Ngāti Tahu whenua.

Contact has also developed a Cultural Sites Protocol that sets out procedures to be followed when working within mapped cultural sites, as well as protocols in the event that archaeological remains, taonga or koiwi are exposed during the power station’s operational activities.

No new infrastructure can be established on the land without prior written permission. The protocol is a consent condition, and Contact is committed to entrenching it within its procedures.

The Environmental Excellence award category is sponsored by PEPANZ.