Matatā's Marilyn Pearce always knew the time would come when she had to roll up her sleeves and fight.

And that time has come.

Tonight the 16 home and 18 section owners of Matatā's Awatarariki fan head will learn whether Whakatāne District Council, with the help of Regional Council and the Government, will offer a buyout to clear the land.

It's another step in the saga that has been running since 2005.


In 2005 the Awatarariki fan head was struck by a devastating debris flow from the steep escarpment catchments behind the town that destroyed homes and left a mess of silt, huge boulders and dead wood.

While Whakatāne District Council tried to find an engineering solution to stop any future flows, Awatariki fan head property owners were told they could rebuild or fix their homes - and some of them did.

"Right up until 2012 council were going to mitigate the risk," Pearce said. "We rebuilt our beach-front home in 2008 after getting approval from council, EQC and our insurance company."

"We were getting on with our lives until it was decided there was no viable solution. It's been hell since then."

In 2012 the council determined there were no engineering options available to mitigate the risk. It was also determined there was a high loss of life risk to people living on the fan head.

A "voluntary retreat" was investigated by the council in 2016 and buyout offers were made to home and section owners based on property valuations by a Tauranga-based firm that took into account past and current values and natural hazard risks.

In 2017 changes to the district and regional plans that would see Awataraiki residents forced out were proposed, but they were not pursued as Whakatāne District Council sought financial help from Regional Council and Government for the buyout.

"To describe it as a voluntary retreat is insulting," Pearce said. "If we say no Regional Council have the option of using the Resource Management Act (RMA) to extinguish our existing land use rights and we'd be forced to leave – with no compensation."


The RMA has never before been used to force property owners from their land and, if it did go ahead and a legal battle ensued, would be a test case for the country.

"Every person who lives on coastal New Zealand needs to keep an eye on the outcome," Pearce said. "With climate change very real, this case could ultimately impact on the lives of many."

Pearce has already said she will have to be forcibly removed from her home should land use rights be taken away.

"I'm not going anywhere without a fight."