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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Cr Ibrahim rocks on, and on

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It is deeply distressing to read the extent of the misrepresentation and half truths that are being promoted on this topic. I have lived in this shire for a long time, and if I didn’t know better, I would also be alarmed by the claims being made about Belongil.

However, I have had the benefit of nearly three years as a councillor studying this issue and speaking directly with leading coastal engineers.

The Manfred Street rock revetment is a replacement of an existing hard protection wall made from polypropylene (plastic). This wall has been repaired and replaced several times over the past 15 years, including by the Greens-majority council of Jan Barham.

The cost so far for these so called ‘temporary’ sand bags is over $2.2 million! An unknown number of massive plastic geobags have washed into our bay after each big storm, the last in 2013.

Why isn’t Positive Change for Marine Life concerned by this? I am very concerned about it. The simple fact is that the erosion effects of rock walls are no different to sandbags.

Whatever sand loss has occurred at Manfred Street due to the sandbags will not be made any worse by a rock wall.

The new rock wall is going exactly where the old sand bag wall is now. Cr Jan Barham is on record in 2000 supporting a rock wall at Manfred St following a warning from expert engineers that a sand bag wall would constantly fail.

Our council is under a court order dating back to 2000 requiring us to maintain protection works at this site, including in front of one private property.

There is not a single council document that has formally adopted planned retreat.

The CZMP of 2012 which recommended planned retreat was withdrawn by none other than Jan Barham and her council.

This document was created with very poor public consultation. If you support democracy and public involvement, then you must respect opposing views. There has never been a referendum on planned retreat, nor has there ever been a genuine plan issued by its supporters.

Even if council formally adopted planned retreat, over a dozen houses would have to be gradually dismantled, as well as electricity, water and sewer infrastructure.

All this material must pass through a narrow road, at the intersection of Manfred St. If this intersection is not maintained, the only way to remove the houses and infrastructure is via the beach.

It will be many years before half the houses are dismantled, and more years until the other half receive the compensation they are entitled to.

Like it or not, a protection wall at Manfred St is here for a long time. The question is; are we prepared to keep repairing it and watch helplessly as plastic bags pollute our bay?

The beach at Belongil is not ruined. I go there regularly with family and friends as do hundreds each week.

The Manfred St protection works are situated between a kilometre of rock walls that have been there for 15 years.

The Belongil locals firmly believe that the erosion has been caused by the Jonson Street rock wall. This claim is yet to be resolved in court.

However, their rock walls have not affected anyone down drift because there aren’t any more homes past theirs.

The endangered birds at the creek mouth are still there. There has not been any negative impact on flora or fauna.

The Manfred Street DA has undergone all required environmental assessments and received concurrence from the relevant authorities.

As for the so called sand pumping, this is a recommendation from the Office of Environment and Heritage. Apart from its inclusion as a possible strategy to enhance the beach, there has been absolutely no more consideration given to it.

Personally, I am very sceptical about it, and I have certainly never stated support for it. It’s easy to bring concerned residents together for a rally if you tell them our beaches are about to be destroyed. But this is just not true.

There will be ample opportunity for the whole community to debate the pros and cons of planned retreat vs protection early next year when the Draft CZMP is released.

Cr Sol Ibrahim, Byron Bay

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  1. FYI re “not a single Council document that has formally adopted Planned Retreat”
    1979 Coastal Protection Act, 1979
    1988 BSC adopted DCP (1988)
    • Planned Retreat
    • Hazard precincts based on the PWD (1978) precincts
    • Restrictions on use on property transfer notices (S149
    1990 NSW Coastline Management Manual (endorses Planned Retreat)
    from ‘Managing Coastal Hazards – a history of coastal erosion and
    the Planned Retreat strategy within Byron Shire’ Oct 2008
    Authors: Fitzgibbon, B. and Barham, J.

  2. Have you had advice on how the bags should be arranged. For a wave to hit a solid wall of sand bags it would be the same as hitting a solid wall of rock.
    When a wave hits a beach the slight upgrade of the sand slows the wave and the power goes out of the wave and the wave stops and recedes and that could be in 100 metres.
    That action has to be copied with sand bags. Step the bags layer on layer over 10 metres, so the wave has to climb bags in steps maybe in 20 steps. With each step the power is knocked out of the wave and that also preserves the bags so they are not ripped apart. To me they are being ripped apart as the full force of the wave hits the bags just like it would hit a rock wall.
    You will probably say that you have not got 10 metres to play with. Well the erosion should have been seen to be occurring beforehand and you take action before your back is to the wall. When the bags are stepped the wave dissipates and its power is lost and there is no sudden bounce back and therefore now gouging of the sand floor just before the bags are layered.

  3. Whose half truth is real?
    1. is there such a thing as perpetrator distress? Deeply distressing are the 5 pro-rock Councillors’ choices over the past 2.5 years to pursue legal loopholes that allow them to now spend $1million of Council’s scarce funds on a pet rock project, without ever asking the ratepayers what they think. There has been no Public Exhibition of this project.
    2. the benefit of 3 years of science? But the pro-rock Councillors voted 3 months into their term (on 20 December 2012) that they would build the “interim” rock wall at Belongil. That reflects how little information they needed to assemble.
    3. yes, Sol went on record speaking in March 2015 to a favoured coastal engineer from the Gold Coast, who is now engaged in building the $1mill rock wall at Belongil.
    4. there has never been a Greens majority Council in Byron Shire.
    5. there are many documents to Planned Retreat, including (i) “section 149 certificates” issued since 1988 to every purchaser of land in the coastal hazard zone at Belongil and (ii) consent conditions on every Development Approval saying the building must be removed when coastal erosion approaches.
    6. the geobag wall at Manfred Street is still there because somebody derailed the previous Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) in its 11th hour. The public are still in the dark as to why that CZMP was pulled. It proposed planned retreat, which didn’t suit the pro-rock lobby.
    7. the so-called “interim” beach access stabilisation (IBAS) works have been estimated to cost $200k to remove, should they not be required once a CZMP is in place in a year or two. That estimate assumes the rocks haven’t shifted, as could happen in a mega-storm. Once smashed to pieces, the wall is impossible to remove and the stray rocks destroy what the Shire truly values – its clean beaches and clean water.
    8. if Sol supported democracy and public involvement, he’d suspend the IBAS and put it out on Public Exhibition.
    9. there is currently some sand in front of the current rock walls at Belongil. If one looks up or down the coast from there, one sees at Tyagarah or at the Wreck how wide the beach would be but for those rocks. Council’s consultant for the CZMP has stated that in a decade or two, there won’t be any natural sand in front of the rocks. They will be permanently water-front, unless sand is imported (but from where?).
    10. the same and other experts estimate that sand drifting clockwise around the Bay was held up in the past by the Jonson Street carpark. It no longer is – new sand now bypasses that headland. This Council resolved in December 2012 and again in February 2014 to remove the 3 spur groynes seaward of the carpark. The experts think this will release sand towards Belongil but it and the sand that remains at Jonson Street are a drop in the bucket of what would be needed at Belongil if we wanted a beach in front of the rocks on their current alignment.
    11. there aren’t any houses down-drift (west) of the end of the current home-made rock walls but there is a nesting area for shore birds. How come we accept the threat to them?
    12. the state government’s Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) said they would not support a CZMP with a rock wall at Belongil unless there was sand replacement to maintain a beach in front of the wall. The pro-rock Councillors turned a blind eye to the impacts and stuck to their guns. That’s how intent they are on rocks.


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