To say that there has been no public consultation on the matter of rock walls at Belongil (Paul Spooner, letters November 11) ignores the fact that this issue has been a matter of great public interest and debate for more than 12 years. Views are divided, but it seems that some refuse to accept that their view may not prevail. Another round of consultations will not contribute much more to the volumes that have been said.
Nevertheless, a three-week exhibition period has been provided for public comment. In addition, we continue to debate the matter passionately in the media, further demonstrating that democracy is alive in our shire. Unfortunately, basic facts all too often are overlooked in the heat of the debate.
For example, the works being planned are interim works to avoid the environmental and economic damage that occurred last storm season. The damage occurred because of the so-called ‘temporary’ 10-year-old sandbags, which are the legacy of the previous two terms of Council. Past inaction has resulted in highly degraded artificial materials entering our Bay to become part of the food chain. Remarkably, the indifference that some people have towards the suburb of Belongil being consumed by the ocean is greater than their concern about the pollution of our oceanic ecosystem.
A decision has finally been made to do something, rather than sit back and wait for more storms to destroy more bags and public beach access, incurring more costs to repair the bags, again. This decision was made in a public meeting, not behind any closed doors. It was hotly debated by all councillors, which is what we were elected to do.
Another basic fact is that sandbags have the SAME impact on the beach as rocks. Sandbags are hard surfaces. Furthermore, our own expert engineers have stated that rock walls constructed with voids can have a lesser impact on the beach because they absorb wave energy. Yet despite this obvious fact, some opponents of Belongil protection continue to claim that only rocks will destroy the beach.
Last week, a photo in this publication showed ocean water lapping right up to a dune. This was in the context of an article claiming yet again that rocks will gobble up the beach. Ironically, no rocks could be seen, only slabs of bitumen making their way down a sand dune into the ocean. It was also claimed in this article that rock protections would cost ratepayers dearly in the future – nonsense! The Jonson Street rock works have protected Byron Bay over 60 years with no maintenance costs. The only protection works that have cost ratepayers have been the bags at Belongil.
The real underlying issue is ‘planned retreat’. Like most ratepayers, I did not know that this had become my council’s policy a decade ago. There was no vote that I recall on the matter. It was a political decision made by a majority of councillors. Planned retreat has merit, but only where there is a plan, and where there is somewhere to retreat to! In the case of Belongil, neither of these two prerequisites exist. The ‘retreat’ has already occurred. More than 80 metres this century. The houses there now used to have a road, and other real estate in front of them! There is nowhere else to go now. There is no more dune to replenish the beach. There are only pipes, concrete, trees, homes, businesses and roads. To think that we can simply pick up a whole suburb and move it is fanciful. We do not have the legal right to force all the residents to remove their rock protections and demolish their homes. We will find ourselves embroiled in litigation and acrimony for decades, while Belongil beach becomes a junkyard for us to clean up. Ninety per cent of the suburb is already protected. Only 110 or so metres remain. Maybe in 100 years, Belongil, and probably much of Byron, may have to be abandoned because of sea-level rise. For the present, we have more important issues to resolve than this one. Fortunately, we are blessed with many kilometres of beach to enjoy for the rest of our lives. At Tyagarah, where no seaside development is permitted, the beach may outlast our civilisation.
Sol Ibrahim, Byron Shire councillor