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Protest planned against Byron councillors’ rock wall

Hans Lovejoy

Two community groups, which have joined forces in a campaign to halt construction of a rock wall at Belongil, plan to organise a protest at this Thursday’s Byron Shire Council meeting.

Contentious plans by majority councillors Ibrahim, Wanchap, Hunter, Cubis and Woods are pushing ahead to build an Interim Beach Access Stabilisation (IBAS), aka rock wall, and have requested staff time be diverted to expedite that and associated management programs. The issue will go before council on Thursday (May 21).

The council recently voted to overturn the almost 30-year policy of ‘planned retreat’ and are set to go ahead with the controversial rock wall, despite concerns from local residents, the NSW Coastal Panel, expert engineers and the scientific community.

The size and scope of the project remain a secret and the council has overruled the normal process of putting the work out to tender, despite hundreds of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars being spent.

Karl Goodsell, the CEO of Positive Change for Marine Life, said, ‘We’ve seen the impacts that walls such as these have had on coastal areas around Australia and overseas.

‘The science is there for all to see and when coastal management experts and even the NSW government are ignored, you have to ask yourself who the rogue five members of the Byron Shire Council are acting for?’ Mr Goodsell asked.

Cate Coorey of Byron Residents’ Group said, ‘Our beaches are our major aesthetic, recreational and economic assets, yet the community is deliberately being shut out of the process.

‘Rushing through this project with no community consultation is irresponsible and shows the increasing willingness of members of this council to implement “worst practice” when it comes to governance. They seem to have forgotten they voted to support the Community Charter for Good Planning only a few months ago.’

‘The community has questions for this council and we deserve answers: what is the reason for the haste? Why the secrecy?

‘Council is planning to undertake substantial works before the Coastal Zone Management Plan is completed. Why can’t designs and construction contracts be drawn up and put out to public tender for such a large expenditure of public funds?’ Ms Coorey questioned.

The group is calling on members of the community to come to the Byron Shire Council meeting at Mullumbimby this Thursday at 9am ‘to show support for maintaining the beach for future generation’s.

‘Community power is all that has stood in the way of unsubstantiated development in Byron Bay over the past few decades. We need to stand united to stop this madness,’ Mr Goodsell said.

No precedent

The Echo asked the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) if ‘temporary protection works’ have ever been removed. A spokesperson replied, ‘Council has a proposal for ‘Interim’ works under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007. This should not be confused with ‘temporary’ coastal protection work under the Coastal Protection Act. As the proposed interim coastal protection works at Belongil Beach are proposed for construction under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007, the temporary coastal protection work provisions defined in the Coastal Protection Act and the related Code do not apply to this proposed development.’

The Echo also asked if is it OEH’s understanding that the cost of removing the temporary works was included in Council’s design for its Interim Beach Access Stabilisation, but is not funded.

The replied, ‘Yes, the cost of removing the interim works was included in Council’s design. This cost is not a component of the OEH funding, which was to assist with the design and approvals of interim coastal protection works.’

A Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for that stretch of beach, known as the Byron Bay Embayment, is also at risk of not being ratified owing to time limits.

Council’s Director Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt, wrote in Council’s upcoming agenda, ‘The challenges facing Council in meeting the current June 30, 2015 CZMP deadline, which have arisen, largely, as a result of the OEH comments on the cost benefit analysis (CBA) and determining an appropriate response to the OEH comments.’


10 responses to “Protest planned against Byron councillors’ rock wall”

  1. Pablo Gianni says:

    If they are funding this rock wall by diverting capital from the road repair budget, then practically everybody in Byron Shire has something to protest about.

  2. Sol Ibrahim says:

    I believe that each coastal erosion problem should be considered on its own merits. Consequently, adopting a polarised position of either ‘for or against retreat’ is not sensible.

    Sea levels are undoubtedly rising. In the past 30 years however this has been measured in millimetres. The time when sea levels result in significant damage to the developed sections of the NSW coastline is several decades away. The question therefore is ‘when does retreat become the most cost effective solution?’ At this time, and for the next few decades, I do not think retreat is essential at Belongil, or any other location in the Byron Shire.

    Putting a retreat strategy into effect at Belongil will be very costly, and could take decades to fully achieve. It is critical to remember that not all properties at Belongil are subject to DA conditions of retreat. Compensation will have to be paid for these properties. Furthermore, Council has in the past decade approved new housing and businesses at Belongil. Adopting a premature and unnecessary forced retreat strategy will most likely lead to more protracted and costly litigation for Council.

    Of the 1500 kms of NSW Coastline, about 15 kms are now subject to serious erosion during severe storm events. Of this 15 Kms, 1.5 kms (0.1% of the Coast) is the Belongil Spit. Of this stretch, approximately 150m (0.01%) is the responsibility of Byron Shire Council (being Manfred, Don and Border Streets) to protect. Well over $2,000,000 has been spent on maintaining the so called ‘temporary’ sandbags at these streets over the past 15 years! Even with planned retreat, we will have to maintain these works for many years to come given the fact that retreat will have to be staged, and will be subject to availability of compensation funds and resolution of legal challenges.

    The remaining 1,350 m fronts private properties, and has been protected by private rock walls for 15 years. A depth of over 80 meters of public and private lands has been lost during successive storms over the past 60 or so years. Retreat has undoubtedly already been allowed to occur at Belongil!

    The Belongil property owners want to pay for the cost of protection and improvement of the beach. Furthermore, there are no residential properties immediately beyond the spit. Therefore end-effects do not result in dangerous consequences for other properties.

    The day will undoubtedly come when Venice and much of Holland will be lost to the ocean. This does not mean that these lands should be abandoned today. The same applies at Belongil, and at Jonson St Byron Bay. Investing in a more robust protection at Manfred St does not mean we reject climate change and sea level rise. Rocks that have been placed can be removed, just as sandbags can. The difference is that rocks do not fall apart and pollute the marine environment with degraded polyester and polypropylene. Rocks are natural, and do not repeatedly fail in strong storm events. The Jonson St protection works have survived virtually without further expense to Council for over 50 years. Had they been made of sandbags, several million dollars would have been spent on them so far.

    Retreat works where a substantial reserve of beach sand exists behind the erosion line. When a storm bites into this sand reserve, it replenishes the beach. However, at Belongil the sand reserve is almost exhausted. If all houses were removed (and of course, Council would have to pay for the removal of the roads, sewer and water infrastructure), it would only take two or three large storm events to breach the spit. The Belongil estuary would be exposed to a direct assault from storm surge and swell. No environmental assessment has been made of the effect on the old growth Belongil wetland ecosystem, or the possible impact on low lying developed lands at Sunrise and beyond. However, I have spoken with a prominent local ecologist who tells me the current ecosystem would undoubtedly be lost.

    Manfred St is the narrowest point on the Spit. This was nearly breached in 2013. Had this occurred, the homes further west would have been cut off. Undoubtedly, public money would have been spent restoring the only access to homes. A new creek mouth at the Spit would expose adjoining properties east of the spit to damage as well. Approved businesses such as the Tree House would come under threat. No analysis of this eventuality has been made in terms of Council’s legal or financial liability. The problem is that the proponents of Planned Retreat do not have a plan at all. It appears to be a position taken on certain principles, without a full and realistic assessment of costs, benefits, timing and consequences. Until this is actually done, continuing to waste public funds on plastic bags is in my opinion short-sighted and not justified for the reasons stated above.

    A final correction. Four detailed quotations were received for the construction, and were all assessed to the same level of due diligence as any other major construction tender. Because of the nature of the works, and the limited field of experienced contractors, Council staff conducted a quotation process which is almost indistinguishable from a tender process. The reason that the budget discussions have been confidential are so that contractors are not informed of the available funds, in the hope that their quotes will come in under budget. This is an obvious business strategy, and should not be used to suggest impropriety.

  3. Jan says:

    Yes Sol, rocks are natural and coal is green! The community wants to save our beach, not destroy it. The economic future of this iconic town depend on it. Desist for heavens sake, if not the community’s sake!!!!

  4. Rob says:

    While I do agree that rocks are a great option, I think that people need to realise that Belongil is not under threat from global warming (yet), but rather from Council building its own rock wall to protect its swimming pool and car park.

    The whole planned retreat is based on a presumption that the coastal erosion at New Brighton in 1972 and now at Belongil are natural events that will get worse with global warming and sea level rise. It will become worse with sea level rise as a result of global warming, but the erosion we see today is not caused by the sea level rise that has occurred to date, and further these residents are not responsible for that rise. The root cause of the issues in both cases are rock walls that have been installed by different levels of government (Brunswick River and the pool car park).

    Before people winge too much, consider that you would do if Council came along and excavated a hole in the road in front of your property that started to threaten your house. I would suggest that most people would reasonably expect that Council would fix it. This is no different.

    While I think the method of protecting these residents homes is worthy of debate, there should be no debate about the need for Council to deal with it responsibly and not try to blame nature and world greed for their own failures.

    • Cate Coorey says:

      Whilst I welcome the Echo letters page as a great forum for contradictory views, with regards to the rock wall issues it cannot replace an open process, fully transparent and with public exhibitions, that enables the community access to all the information, the costings and the plans for the rock wall for our assessment. Sol Ibrahim’s (non-expert) assessment on this page has holes a truck could drive through. The community might have more faith in the actions of Council members that would listen to the recommendations of the NSW Coastal Panel, numerous scientists, coastal management experts and the NSW government, rather than a handful of amateurs, one of them there under false pretenses, with NO expertise on the subject. Council was even offered a free Cost Benefit Analysis of this project by the state govt.

  5. Jim Stephens says:

    Rock walls were built years ago to protect the town’s beachfront. The prevailing ocean current scours sand away where the rocks stop. By building the rock walls that protect the town, council now has a responsibility to protect the properties that are affected where the rocks end.
    Having said that, by far the best solution would be MAN MADE REEFS. Reefs would produce more surf, fishing and diving spots, and solve the erosion problem. It’s not rocket since; rubber tyres linked together anchor in the sand and hold sand creating sand reefs. If they break free, there is very little impact as they are pliable.

    Rather than being obstructionist Byron residents need to be pro-active and innovative.

  6. Mrs D Lebowski says:

    From Sol Ibrahim – my responses in brackets.
    “I believe that each coastal erosion problem should be considered on its own merits. Consequently, adopting a polarised position of either ‘for or against retreat’ is not sensible.”
    (I agree with Sol Ibrahim – each proposal should be considered on its merits and exhibited for community consultation to assess those merits, not done in secrecy)
    “The time when sea levels result in significant damage to the developed sections of the NSW coastline is several decades away”
    (No, it is when the next mega-storm strikes, with 10 metre waves. That will be compounded later by an extra half metre depth of water when sea levels rise).
    “The question therefore is ‘when does retreat become the most cost effective solution?’ At this time, and for the next few decades, I do not think retreat is essential at Belongil, or any other location in the Byron Shire.” (Whenever you think it kicks in Sol, and that should be written into the 2015 Coastal Zone Management Plan which we are still waiting for and before which no work of this nature should be done)

    “Putting a retreat strategy into effect at Belongil will be very costly, and could take decades to fully achieve.” (Even if it takes decades, best put that in the CZMP now. And publish the costs of the alternatives so we can have a thorough understanding of what is involved on all options)
    “It is critical to remember that not all properties at Belongil are subject to DA conditions of retreat”
    (there are three not subject to retreat -the vast majority are and have been since 1988)

    “Compensation will have to be paid for these (few) properties. Furthermore, Council has in the past decade approved new housing and businesses at Belongil. Adopting a premature and unnecessary forced retreat strategy will most likely lead to more protracted and costly litigation for Council.”
    (And we are a Council that gives way to threats of legal action? – a great way to make good policy!)

    Of the 1500 kms of NSW Coastline, about 15 kms are now subject to serious erosion during severe storm events. Of this 15 Kms, 1.5 kms -0.1% of the Coast – is the Belongil Spit.
    (But that’s 10% of the coastal hotspots in NSW. The state, the country and the world are watching!)
    Of this stretch, approximately 150m – 0.01% – is the responsibility of Byron Shire Council
    (being Manfred, Don and Border Streets) to protect
    (But only if ‘protect’ is the right answer, which it isn’t).
    “Well over $2,000,000 has been spent on maintaining the so called ‘temporary’ sandbags at these streets over the past 15 years! ”
    (The bags aren’t ‘so-called’ temporary. They are actual temporary, not like the rocks you are so keen on — They were installed with a life expectancy of 10 years and have done really well as temporary protection)

    “Even with planned retreat, we will have to maintain these works for many years to come given the fact that retreat will have to be staged, and will be subject to availability of compensation funds and resolution of legal challenges.”
    (No, once retreat is adopted, the bags come out. That’s what ‘temporary’ means. And what will be the maintenance cost of the rock walls when we have to pay for sand replenishment – potentially destroying Byron’s best surf breaks – as part of the process?)

    The remaining 1,350 m fronts private properties, and has been protected by (illegal) private rock walls for 15 years. A depth of over 80 meters of public and private lands has been lost during successive storms over the past 60 or so years. Retreat has undoubtedly already been allowed to occur at Belongil!

    (The coast and its dunes have been prevented from moving landward by illegal rocks)

    “The Belongil property owners want to pay for the cost of protection and improvement of the beach”.
    (No, they are willing to pay for rock walls but are adamant they won’t contribute to sand nourishment)

    “Furthermore, there are no residential properties immediately beyond the spit. Therefore end-effects do not result in dangerous consequences for other properties.”

    (But the end effects of the illegal walls may threaten nesting shore bird areas like those of the Little Tern – a threatened species I think)

    “The day will undoubtedly come when Venice and much of Holland will be lost to the ocean. This does not mean that these lands should be abandoned today. The same applies at Belongil, and at Jonson St Byron Bay.”
    (Why does the same land grab apply when this country has oodles of land not under threat. What a waste of public money, ‘protecting’ these few properties! They started off as beach shacks and now some are McMansions)

    “Investing in a more robust protection at Manfred St does not mean we reject climate change and sea level rise. Rocks that have been placed can be removed, just as sandbags can.”
    (Can anyone find me a place from which the rocks have been removed?)

    “The difference is that rocks do not fall apart and pollute the marine environment with degraded polyester and polypropylene. Rocks are natural, and do not repeatedly fail in strong storm events.”
    (Uranium is ‘natural’ too but you don’t just put it anywhere. Rocks are not natural in a sand dune system like Belongil. When the rocks do fail it’ll be in a mega-storm, the rocks will be all over the Bay and it will be ruined forever)

    “The Jonson St protection works have survived virtually without further expense to Council for over 50 years. Had they been made of sandbags, several million dollars would have been spent on them so far. ”

    Retreat works where a substantial reserve of beach sand exists behind the erosion line.
    (It exists at Belongil, it’s called a ‘dune’. Unfortunately, it just has real estate all over it. The real answer is to freeze development and re-investment there)
    “When a storm bites into this sand reserve, it replenishes the beach. However, at Belongil the sand reserve is almost exhausted.”
    (Sol has the model backwards. There would be a sand reserve if the coast had been allowed to recede inland. The rock placers have locked up the sand reserve) “If all houses were removed – and of course, Council would have to pay for the removal of the roads, sewer and water infrastructure- it would only take two or three large storm events to breach the spit.
    (No, not “if the houses were removed”. It’s “if the rocks were removed”)

    ” The Belongil estuary would be exposed to a direct assault from storm surge and swell. No environmental assessment has been made of the effect on the old growth Belongil wetland ecosystem, or the possible impact on low lying developed lands at Sunrise and beyond. However, I have spoken with a prominent local ecologist who tells me the current ecosystem would undoubtedly be lost.”
    (It’s currently fashionable amongst Councillors to quote unnamed experts)

    “Manfred St is the narrowest point on the Spit. This was nearly breached in 2013.
    (Who says? Which expert?)
    “Had this occurred, the homes further west would have been cut off. Undoubtedly, public money would have been spent restoring the only access to homes. A new creek mouth at the Spit would expose adjoining properties east of the spit to damage as well. Approved businesses such as the Tree House would come under threat. No analysis of this eventuality has been made in terms of Council’s legal or financial liability. The problem is that the proponents of Planned Retreat do not have a plan at all. It appears to be a position taken on certain principles
    ( shame on those who have principles!)
    ” … without a full and realistic assessment of costs, benefits, timing and consequences.
    (Show us the full assessment of everything — eg the assessment of housing people in a precarious zone, for ever ad infinitum? … propped up at public expense, and the expense is forever — like in Holland)

    “Until this is actually done, continuing to waste public funds on plastic bags is in my opinion short-sighted and not justified for the reasons stated above.”
    (Expenditure on the truly temporary bags will cease the day we get a Coastal Zone Management Plan adopted. That was prevented in 2009 by means that remain a mystery. We can perhaps assume that those who brought that Plan down were opposed to its basis of Planned Retreat)

    “A final correction. Four detailed quotations were received for the construction, and were all assessed to the same level of due diligence as any other major construction tender. Because of the nature of the works, and the limited field of experienced contractors, Council staff conducted a quotation process which is almost indistinguishable from a tender process. ”
    (But was not a public tender! – show the public the detailed quotations)
    “The reason that the budget discussions have been confidential are so that contractors are not informed of the available funds, in the hope that their quotes will come in under budget. This is an obvious business strategy, and should not be used to suggest impropriety”
    (this is not a convincing argument – why can some projects be put to tender and not others, using that logic? why do contractors need to know about available funds?)

  7. m gardner says:

    A public process is required. Most importantly, the terms of reference for this public process must include mapping and costing various options of planned retreat. The community must have specifics to understand and consider, not simply scaremongering and unexamined claims of costs and litigation.

    I would like to revive discussion of a land- and seascape assessment of options for the entire Shire, catchment by catchment, so that an accurate sense of the prospects for the entire Shire are understood. As for as the Belongil and Tallows catchments, the location of Byron Bay town and country — there are some instructive models already in action on parts of this coast. Some date from 1999, the year of the same storms that prompted the problems that continue at Belongil to today. All depend on taking a large scale long term view. Looking again at the Belongil spit and its ICOL as a unit, integrating this with the wider W Byron and town flooding — these places are all linked by the waters fresh and marine.

    History reminds us that public process gone awry is why the rocks appeared at Belongil in the first place. I recently reviewed newspaper clippings from 1999. Agreements to use sandbags and work cooperatively for long term solutions were sidestepped. Instead, some people used emergency police permission to put rocks in. The uproar has continued since then.

  8. Emily says:

    ‘What good is a cynic with no better plan’ – Ben Harper

    If you do not support a rock wall on your beach, that is fine and just. Rock walls are an eye-sore in comparison to sandbags and cause terminal scour on open beaches. But you must be able to come up with a better option. To lose valuable public land and infrastructure (think of the community users of the swimming pool) and private housing, you must be able to say, what are we as the public willing to sacrifice financially so that the council can fund loss of private housing and re-location of public space.

    Instead of making accusations, come up with solutions.

    I read via facebook that the planned retreat legislation is decades old. Yes it is… it’s outdated. Increased storm events and erosion is occurring more frequently, we either lose most of our value public land on majority of Australia’s east/south coast, or we start protecting it. Think of the values of our foreshore. Walking paths, bbq areas, a buffer zone for housing…

    Your community is setting a precedence for all of Australia’s coastal protection right now, we sit back and watch. All the best.

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