The New Vale Coal Mine and associated operations use approximately 100ha of land, among farmland in Waimumu, near Mataura. Within the vicinity of the coal mine are the tributaries of the Hedge hope stream, named Tatakura by Tūpuna (after the ancient name for a variety of ducks). Tatakura is located in Te Rā a Takitimu (The Southland Plains) which, according to tribal stories represents the sails of Takitimu, formed when the ancient waka capsized.
The Tatakura feeds into the Makarewa River, which in turn feeds into the Oreti River. The Oreti River is a Statutory Acknowledgement Area under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Since Ngai Tahu views the whole water system as an integrated whole, the management and restoration of Tatakura are needed to meet the requirements of the Settlement Act.
According to the NZ Freshwater Fish Database (NZFFD) within a 10km radius of the Hedgehope, aquatic life includes the Gollum Galaxias, Upland Bully, Common Bully, Longfin Eel, Brown Trout, and Kura. A vast majority of these are treasured and valued mahinga kai species. In recent decades, the declining numbers of longfin eels, which were once in abundance, have been particularly concerning for Māori. Thus, their presence in the stream is especially important. The same too can be said for the Gollum Galaxias which has been listed as a threatened and nationally vulnerable species. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the stream as a habitat, for not only the taonga currently present, but also for the native life that was present before colonisation. Taonga and sources of mahinga kai found in this area in the past and present likely extend beyond those formally recognised by the NZFFD.
The coal mine is a longstanding contributor to the local economy providing both employment opportunities and a critical energy source to the region since the 1940s. It employs approximately 28 staff and produces roughly 270,000 tonnes of lignite per year, as well as operating its own transport fleet which delivers coal to customers in Southland and Otago.
The Hokonui Rūnanga and the New Vale Coal Mine, operated by Green Briar Limited are working together to ensure the proper management of the coal mine located in Waimumu. The good-faith relationship between the Hokonui Rūnanga and New Vale has formed through the mutual understanding that the New Vale Coal Mine is both culturally and socio-economically important. Although The Hokonui Rūnanga exercises Tino rangatiratanga where the coal mine is located, they acknowledge New Vale is a significant provider to the local economy and vice versa.
Collaborative governance between both New Vale and the Hokonui Rūnanga has been a tale of success. The Hokonui Rūnanga has advised New Vale’s Site Restoration Plan and their initial focus on improving water quality and enhancing mahinga kai and indigenous biodiversity. In line with this, New Vale understands that Hokonui Rūnanga considers any discharge into waterbodies culturally offensive, as it strips the water body of its mauri. They are therefore working together to find alternative solutions for environmental and cultural impacts including wetland creation.