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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Tweed River ‘looking like canal’

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The continued use of rock revetment walls to control erosion along the Tweed River bank between Murwillumbah an Tumbulgum has come under fire for spoiling the river’s natural state and making it look like an ‘English-style canal’.

But Tweed mayor Barry Longland doesn’t agree with Cr Gary Bagnall’s view that too many rock walls make the river look ‘ugly’, saying the river will continue to erode because it’s in a floodplain.

Greens Cr Katie Milne, on the other hand, says it’s not just flooding and storm events causing the riverbank erosion, but increasing recreational use by power boats and ‘the dreadful issue’ of wakeboarding.

The debate came as councillors discussed a report last week which showed Tweed Shire Council has spent more than $1.2 million in the past five years tackling the erosion problem between Murwillumbah and Tumbulgum, and is likely to spend more on rock walls.

Cr Bagnall, who had called for the report, described the expense since 2008 as ‘unbelievable’, saying more and more rock revetment works were being used to stabilise the riverbank.

He suggested that revegetating the bank instead would be more cost effective as he’d been told that planting fig trees along the river’s length from Murwillumbah to Stotts Island would be ‘a lot cheaper’.

The staff report said various works hade been undertaken, or were planned, on that section of river where major erosion or slips had placed infrastructure at risk, such as roads, levees, public facilities or utilities.

Cr Bagnall said the rock works, of which he’d seen a lot more since he’d called for the report, had started to remind him ‘of one of those canals in England with all the rock walls instead of a wild-looking river’.

Rethink needed

He said a rethink was needed of not only the erosion but the visual impact of ‘riverbanks being rocked up and looking like a canal’.

Cr Longland said he didn’t share the view that it made the river look ‘ugly’ as ‘we live in a floodplain and it’ll erode’ and rock revetment was needed to control it.

Council’s engineering director Patrick Knight told councillors there was ‘a real problem’ in how grants for erosion prevention works were handed out by the state and federal governments and how they were carried out.

Mr Knight said funding was not given for preventive treatment measures but to ‘reactive repairs’.

His report showed a total of 14 sets of works carried out between Condong Creek and the Riverview Hotel in Murwillumbah since 2008, including restoration of levee foundations and rock protection for eroded river banks.

He said most of the works were funded under the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) following flood events in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the works had been undertaken in an ad-hoc manner based on funding availability and risk assessment.

Under the NDRRA guidelines, reinstatement of natural riverbanks and foreshores is not eligible for funding as the federal agency considered the damage an ‘ongoing natural realignment process’, and only sections of riverbank supporting infrastructure had succeeded in attracting funding.

Boating plan

Meanwhile, the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) earlier this month responded to a Council request for it to ‘urgently review the boating plan of management for the Tweed River, because of concerns with ongoing riverbank erosion, adverse environmental impacts and the cost of remediation works, and safety concerns of river users’.

The notice of motion for the request by Crs Bagnall and Milne was passed 4–3 (Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne against) at the May Council meeting.

A senior RMS officer said the agency’s staff had recently inspected the river to look at boating issues such as current speed restrictions, zoned areas and navigational aids.

The RMS said ‘all aspects’ of the boating plan of management were currently being reviewed, including the ‘associated aspects of riverbank erosion and environmental impacts, with a strong emphasis on safety and navigation issues, providing equity to all users of the waterway’.

At a recent Council meeting, the controversial issue of wakeboarding and its impacts on riverbank erosion was raised again, with deputy mayor Michael Armstrong succeeding in urging for a report to be prepared on the possibility of regulating wakeboarding on the lower reaches of the river.

The wakeboarding issue sparked a community backlash almost two years ago when a Gold Coast operator who had illegally run a wakeboarding clinic on the river around Fingal Head for around five years had applied for, then later pulled out of, establishing the wakeboarding activity permanently.

At the time, concerns were raised over the activity’s riverbank erosion and noise impacts as well as on the breeding of migratory birds there.



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