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Byron Shire
February 26, 2021

Cr Wanchap defends use of rock walls

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I would like to respond to the comments made on the way I voted in council to continue the process towards replacing present geo bags with rock revetment protection works in order to repair and protect beach accesses and three public roads which are now in urgent need of repairs at Belongil.

As a councillor I am first and foremost accountable to the whole community. Once I have researched an issue, sought expert advice and carefully considered the options I have no choice but to vote according to how I see the facts whilst taking in the complexities of community opinion and concern.

The Coastal Panel was not the determining authority and as such they were required to provide comment to council. They did not rule against the report and their points were addressed accordingly by the consultants and staff.

Ultimately, council is the determining authority and therefore it was our responsibility to make a decision on the viability of the report.

I am confident every aspect was covered by council’s consultants and I’m satisfied all the points were addressed reasonably. I believe it is imprudent to continue using inferior measures when a more efficient and affordable alternative is available.

Expert advice from the UNSW, Water Research Laboratory was that for a short seawall between two existing longer seawalls there would be minimal incremental difference in alongshore erosion therefore shorebird roosting and nesting sites would be minimally affected.

The main advantages of rock seawalls are that they offer a higher level of land protection and have a longer life and lower maintenance.

Specialist engineers agree that the effect on the beach is the same whether the protection works are sand bags or rocks.

The staff estimation of cost of the design approved was not inhibitive. The largest of the three sites is at Manfred Street and it is 103 metres in length. This was costed at $838,000 with free rocks from the RTA site.

However, if you were to subtract from that figure the cost of rock removal from the beach of $175,000 which could be said to be far less than repair and replacement yearly of the failing geo bags, this total would come to $663,000.

With the promised state government grant I can hardly see what all the fuss is about.

We would be able to provide a formalised safe access to the beach and repair to council’s road which is reasonable since it would have a higher level of protection from further erosion.

The Greens’ policy is for ‘managed retreat’ and I agree that we do need to ‘manage’ our retreat.

However, I think we need to walk a middle path and a ‘one size fits all’ policy is bound to fail.

In these changing climatic times we need to be adaptive and pragmatic to the facts as they change on the ground.

I do not think having a half a dozen homes dangling from a cliff with all of their contents, building materials, asbestos etc being added to waste in our oceans is managing our retreat very well.

Nor do I believe it is workable to relocate dozens of homes to another site in the hills or otherwise.

Properties in the hills continue to have serious access issues caused by land slips from recent storm events. Nowhere is safe from increasing weather events certainly not the township of Byron which has been built on a swamp.

I believe ‘planned retreat’ is in principle all we can do in the light of future sea rises but in practice it has proven hard to implement. It is in the best interest of the whole community to find a way of ‘managing’ our shore line that does not entail ‘abandoning’ a whole suburb.

As one expert noted, the geo bags are significantly vulnerable to ever increasing storm events. These types of events don’t give warning, they just happen and therefore we need to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

With the small distance between the ocean and the estuary at Manfred Street there is every possibility of a break through with the ocean breaching the dunes and the estuary overflowing on a king tide.

Whilst the word ‘interim’ has been used often in connection with these proposed works, this new designed structure has been required to meet both the interim nature of being able to be removed a well as meeting the more stable qualities of protecting the land from further erosion, over topping and collapse from wave action.

The geo bags, whilst being officially named ‘interim’, were in fact in place for more than a decade which would be more aptly considered permanent whilst not adequately preventing erosion.

I am very supportive of opening up discussion to public debate.

I would like to see a ‘critical conversation’ at the community centre in early February to present expert opinions on both sides of the issue so that the public can be fully informed.

I believe kneejerk reactions have no place in policy making and I am finding that just the words ‘rocks’ and ‘interim’ are enough to call forth a torrent of abuse.

Perhaps those who feel disappointed with my position on the rocks issue could answer this question: if as our consultants have advised, a 103-metre rock wall which follows closely the curve of the present geo bags between existing rock walls is a safer option, more affordable, provides better protection, has less impact on the marine life and the environment and does not reduce the beach any more than geo bags, then why would we continue with the present maintenance-intensive geo bag structure?

Cr Rose Wanchap, Byron Bay


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  1. In reference to rock seawalls vs geo bags,
    Although I do not live in Byron, I have had over ten years and still ongoing experience in beach protection work
    on adelaides metro beaches.
    I personally agree that rock walls are far superior in all areas for permanent protection so long as they are constructed correctly!


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