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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Surf club’s turbulent future

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The continued refurbishment of the Fingal Rovers Lifesaving Club at Fingal Head is under a cloud as Tweed Shire Council engineers wait for big tides to abate to assess the extent of severe erosion on the club, which forced it to be evacuated this week.

And a Greens councillor has questioned the wisdom of spending public funds for the renovation of the club which straddles the shire’s erosion hazard line, saying the club should have been relocated onto nearby council-owned caravan park land before spending money on it.

But club managers say the club is not under immediate threat and they will continue to raise funds for the second stage of the refit, which includes toilets and a kiosk.

The first stage of the clubhouse refit for work replacing most of the second storey, which began last December and was stopped this week, has cost around $700,000, and most of that was funded by council and state grants.

Surf club president Robyn Wonson told Echonetdaily that this morning she checked the erosion washing away the bank, and an outdoor shower, only 12 metres from the surf club.

‘Council is waiting for the tides to drop so the engineers can have a good look at it, there’s no access to the beach there and the edge of the erosion has been fenced off,’ Ms Wonson said.

‘We can’t access the building till the structural engineers have seen how it’s been affected.’

Ms Wonson said the second stage was on hold for a while ’till we raise more money’ but could not say what the future held for the club if the severe erosion crept closer as it was ‘out of our control’.

Tweed mayor Barry Longland told media this week that while the club was still standing ‘it’s a dangerous situation’.

Cr Longland said that while the club had yet to be ‘undermined’ by the erosion, council had to be ‘cautious’.

He said that more permanent protection measures would be investigated after the high tides subside.


But Cr Katie Milne told Echonetdaily she had held concerns for some time about spending ratepayer money on the refit due to its proximity to the eroded escarpment and because it sat on the erosion line.

‘When the development application was lodged for the refurbishment last year, I expressed concerns about public money being used in that location, I believe it should have been relocated,’ Cr Milne said.

‘The council owns the nearby caravan park and the club could have been redesigned and relocated to land there.

‘It’s a very big project with almost $1 million to be spent on it eventually, most of it public funding, and we shouldn’t want to throw more money at it.’

Cr Milne said she feared any future state government funds for ‘protection’ works could be used for ‘rocks or sandbags’, which would only exacerbate the problem around the club.

Fingal Head resident and the Greens federal candidate for Richmond, Dawn Walker, has called for a national coastal plan to address the issue, saying a 2011 report for Surf Lifesaving Australia showed that more than half of the country’s surf lifesaving clubs are threatened by extreme tides and weather conditions.

Acting general manager Troy Green told Echonetdaily that council had contributed nearly $300,000 so far for the refurbishment and the state around $435,000.

Mr Green said the area had not been declared a natural disaster, therefore disaster funds were ‘not applicable’, but Tweed MP Geoff Provest had been in touch with council and was ‘making representations to the minister in how the state may assist’.

Mr Green said that because the immediate hazard erosion line passes through the seaward portion of the two-storey clubhouse building, council ‘would not permit building works seaward of the existing structure’ and ‘why only refurbishment was consented to’.

The refurbishment to date has involved mostly an internal fit out including new walls, flooring, windows, bathrooms and roller door.

He said the renovations ‘are certainly within the hazard zone’ but not any new structural works.

Ms Wonson said the club membership was currently ‘down’ with only around 40 active members as the clubhouse had been closed for some time.

‘But we were able to get through most of the summer patrolling season as is, even though it was not ideal without a (permanent) toilet and shower,’ she said.

The builder, she said, had left a demountable toilet on site for use by the club and community.



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