A plan to extract sand from Tallow Beach and pump it via national park land onto Clarkes Beach has been damned by a local engineer as ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.
The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has identified the so-called ‘sand nourishment program’ as necessary to offset the likely erosion of Belongil Beach as the result of the construction of a rock wall.
A similar scheme at Noosa cost more than $2 million to construct and has annual operating costs of more than $300,000.
A UNSW study has estimated similar construction costs for the Byron project but with higher ongoing costs, estimated at around $.5 million a year.
The OEH is so keen on the plan that it had threatened not to allow the construction of rock walls at Belongil without the sand nourishment scheme being in place.
But former NSW environment minister Rob Stokes overruled the OEH to allow council to go ahead with the rock wall so long as the sand nourishment plan was subsequently implemented.
In a letter to Byron Shire Council on February 20 this year, OEH wrote, ‘Whilst the minister is keen to ensure the sand transfer system remains a key element of the coastal zone management plan’s (CZMP) adaptive management approach, he has listened to resident concerns and would permit the seawall component to be constructed prior to the sand transfer scheme in order to alleviate the threat to the properties.’
Under the plan, Echonetdaily understands there would be deep well dug in Tallow Beach into which sand would wash, then be sucked out as a wet slurry and lifted by pumping a short distance to a nearby main pump house.
From there it would be pumped in a pipeline, probably in road reserves, to a discharge point upstream of the areas of depletion.
Tweed experience mixed
But retired civil engineer Andy Winton-Brown, who worked on a similar sand nourishment project on the Tweed coast says that project has had mixed results.
‘It’s been a great success at the northern end beaches [such as Kirra] but it’s denuded the northern end of Fingal,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘My personal view is that Tallow Beach is a popular surfing beach. So if you had a system there withdrawing sand at Cosy Corner it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
‘We’re taking from the many to give to a few,’ he added, referring to the small number of landowners who live behind beaches that would be replenished by the sand.
Mr Winton-Brown said that when his family first moved to the area 30 years ago ‘we used to go surfing at Cosy Corner. If you can imagine it being a sand mining exercise, it will ruin a lovely surfing beach.’
He added that while the sand nourishment program was ‘technically possible engineering-wise’ he questioned whether the community would want to ‘denude sand from one beach so some people can save their houses from being washed away when the long term trajectory is that those houses won’t be here forever.’
‘The 1978 long-term report said that [those properties] will all go eventually so there ought to be a planned retreat. So if you’ve built houses in the wrong place maybe you should pull them down eventually rather than pouring money into them to try and keep them up.
Mr Winton-Brown also questioned why a coastal zone management plan (CZMP) that was completed in 2010 and submitted to the state government for approval was later withdrawn by Byron Shire Council’s then general manager Graeme Faulkner.
‘If you look at the 2010 draft plan planned retreat was the way to go. It was submitted to the government for ratification and then the general manager of the day withdrew it and ever since then we’ve moved away from planned retreat. Someone has to ask why is it so?’ he said.