Whareroa Marae keeps fighting to have clean air to breathe

A Tauranga hapū that says it has been affected by environmental pollution for decades is again facing a battle for clean air.

The marae of Ngāti Kuku and Ngāi Tūkairangi is stuck in the middle of the industrial district of Tauranga, which has grown up around it, thanks to council zoning.

Now It is opposing moves by two local companies to expand their asphalt factories and potentially increase the levels of pollutants they can discharge into the air.

“When I came here, I was just retired from playing rugby and I was pretty well fit," Manea Ngatai says. The Whareroa Marae chairman has lived in a marae kaumātua flat for 13 years, beside the Ballance fertiliser factory near the Port of Tauranga.

"But now my health has deteriorated with what I breathe, air-breathe. And I'm concerned my wife is in the same boat as me, she has trouble breathing. We have to lock ourselves in our whare sometimes,” he says.

Tauranga hapū continue their fight.

102 submissions

Allied Asphalt and Higgins Group have applied to Tauranga City Council to expand their asphalt-making factories, which may increase air emissions over the next 35 years.

“When we have manuhiri (visitors) onto our marae they will say to me, what's that smell, where’s that coming from?" Ngatai says. "Because it's already in my system. I can't say what smell. I've already got it inside me. So, we don't have manuhiri here too long.”

A total of 102 submissions were made last week and for Ngatai and his people, it's not the only environmental fight they're having, right next door is the Ballance fertiliser factory with air pollutants that need to be monitored.

“We never leave our clothes out on the line overnight. We don't have any ground hangis anymore, because they've found PSA in the ground further up the road,” Ngatai says.

Once a playground

“Growing up down here, being a young fulla in the early '60s, this uses to be our playground over there where Ballance is.”

In its application, Allied Asphalt says it plans to build a new facility that will be more efficient and will therefore have less impact on the environment

On the other hand, Higgins Group has made no assurance that its expansion will improve matters.

“This marae has been here for over 150 years. Our koroua, Taiaho Hori Ngatai built this whare here behind me, our whare tupuna, Raurukitahi. He built that for his children and mokopuna like us. Now we have to talk to him and say, 'look, we may have to move you in the future' and it's sad to do that.”