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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Rally organisers hope people power will save Belongil beach

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Rock-Wall-IMG_9118
Protesters at Byron Shire Council’s May meeting show their feelings about councillors plans to construct a rock wall at Belongil. Photo Eve Jeffery

Chris Dobney

In an effort to mobilise people power against the construction of a rock wall at Belongil, two community groups have announced a rally on the beach in Byron Bay next Sunday

As well as the hoped-for people power, there will be music, film, speakers and food at a community event at the Byron Community Centre afterwards

The rally, organised by Byron Residents’ Group and Positive Change for Marine Lifewill begin at 1pm on Sunday 7 June on Main Beach at the Wreck side of the car park and we will walk along the beach to Belongil.

Cate Coorey of Byron Residents’ Group described the recent move by Byron Shire Council to build a rock wall at Belongil Beach ‘essentially to prop up private property’ as ‘a shock to the community’.

‘No one expected that “planned retreat”, the preferred policy of 29 years’ standing, would be overturned,’ she said.

‘Since 1986 the community has continued to support ‘planned retreat’ as a response to coastal erosion

‘The NSW Coastal Panel, expert engineers and coastal scientists reject sea walls because they have seen the damage done elsewhere,’ said Karl Goodsell of Positive Change for Marine Life

Ms Coorey added the community had been further disturbed by the news that sand pumping would be necessary ‘to replace the sand loss that the walls will cause.’

‘These are our beaches and our rates

‘Since we were not invited to comment or provide input to this proposal we are going to show the members of this Council that the people of Byron will not tolerate our beaches being ruined – nor will we consent to pay for the privilege,’ Ms Coorey said.

 


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Thankyou everyone organising these protests, for your tireless labour of love and committment to something that impacts upon everyone. I am just shocked and bewildered how a little handful of people can support and do something so wildly unpopular with everyone else, and expect to keep on living an idyllic life in such a close knit community. We’ve seen it many times before. I just don’t get it – do people think they can continue living an isolated life without friends and relationships in a small community after they’ve pissed everyone off?

  2. Agree, but can we start the protest at the swimming pool, as it is this rock wall that is actually the cause of the problem.

    And if Council don’t agree to remove the rock wall at the swimming pool, let’s have a forum on alternative methods to protect properties affected by it.

    Honestly, if anyone else other than those “rich McMansion owners at Belongil” had Council dig a big hole in front of their property that started to threaten their house, the community would be out if force demanding Council to fix their problem.

    Simply saying stop the rock wall without discussing how to solve the problem is incredibly socially unjust.

    • Not so Rob. While the rock groyne at Main beach has caused sand loss north of the groyne, that impediment is not the cause of the gouging at Belongil beach. The illegal rocks hurled there many years ago are causing their own problems and adding more rocks will not change anything, only exacerbate the loss of sand. I agree the whole beach needs to be looked at. There are many other less costly and damaging solutions that have been aired over the years and these should be seriously discussed again. The inappropriate impediment being forced on the community against all expert advice will only cause further problems and the costs will escalate. First step is to ensure this enormous inappropriate wall is not erected and then a serious debate should follow. We cannot afford to go down the same road as the Noosa debacle. Most importantly, a rock wall is NOT a solution in any way shape or form. Everyone knows we cannot afford to pump sand from Tallows beach to create an artificial beach. It is an absolute nonsense.

  3. 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 controlled 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 St 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 St 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 St 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.

    • Sol’s response he is so full of holes, untruths and outright scaremongering, I hardly know where to begin. He is on the public record agreeing that rocks mean greater loss of sand (than geobags for example) and much more rapidly. He is also on the books as saying he doesn’t care about that because there are so many other beaches in the area!! State funding for this pet project of his was withheld because the wall was deemed too big and in the wrong place. But still he wants to go ahead regardless, taking the funds from the ratepayers instead. In other words, we all pay for this edifice of destruction.
      Profits from the business community in the town and at Belongil all depend of the health of the beach. Further degradation of our best asset simply means people will stop coming. Similar issues have been handled more professionally to our north and their beaches today have plenty of sand. This ad hoc knee jerk hit and miss approach is only breaking up our beach into an irregular and unattractive mish mash. There are no winners with this edifice, only losers. If we want social amenity, a thriving business community, a healthy beachfront and cost effective solutions, we needs to put our best asset, the beach, first. This short stretch of oversized wall is ridiculously expensive and will create more problems than it purports to solve. It must not proceed.
      By the way, Sol is a newcomer to town and seems to understand very little. Talk to any local who has been here for generations and you will soon learn how harmful this action will be. Rest assured, it’s impact will be far greater than the length and size of the wall.

  4. Ah, the irony of some of this . But it’s a great idea. Let’s assemble at the swimming pool , behind the rock walls in the town, crying out the injustice and impracticability of rock wall protection for private and public property.

    Isn’t our town protected by rock walls, “propping up” those very public and private assets? For those howling in protest here, seems like double standards at play, I reckon. And look to the upside – the proposed (re)alignment of the rock wall along private and public land is not where the previous alignment was before it and the bags got washed away , it’s at least 5m in ,and what 100m long, that’s 500 sqm of additional beach! courtesy of two “generous” land owners (one of them being Council). And here’s another inconvenient fact – at least 65% of the land being protected is in fact Council land.That’s right our valuable land!

    And by the time you come up with a better, more practical solution for protecting the town and Belongil with anything other than recycled, organic rocks, it’ll be another decade of squabbling and money totally wasted.

    This thing is a money funnel and most of us are sick to death of the time and money that gets tipped into this – certain people it seems want to continue this madness for another 20 years – end it now!

    Simon – Byron rate payer.

  5. 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
    Certificates)
    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.

  6. Sol, first of all there are no ‘half-truths’ as you mention in your above comment. We aren’t asking the landowners at Belongil to abandon their houses and leave them to the sea, we are asking for adequate public consultation, environmental impacts and threats to public amenity to be addressed.

    Can you explain to the people of Byron Bay how these three areas were addressed by council?

    In regards to the geobags, yes, it is concerning if they are potentially creating marine debris and affecting marine life, however this is outside of the scope of our campaign as the bags were already there when we began focusing on this issue. Therefore, the geobags are redundant in terms of whether or not they are better/worse than an IBAS. The fact of the matter is that council has proposed and approved an IBAS wall and that wall has not been adequately examined in terms of its environmental and social impacts. In terms of ‘the erosion effects of rock walls being no different to sandbags’, if you truly believe that this is the case may I refer you to the NSW Coastal Panel’s own recommendations for council in which they stated ten points of concern for the IBAS, one of which was, “…long-term impacts on the beach at Belongil.” The NSW Coastal Panel also went on to say that council should be, “…cognisant of the potential long-term impact that the proposed works could have on the beach, particularly in relation to the precedent they will create on the overall management of the coast and the potential for direct impacts on adjoining areas.” We at Positive Change for Marine Life are also concerned by this precedent. The Coastal Panel go on to list, ‘unintended headlands and end-effects, lack of coordinated and consistent coastal management, lack of integration into a CZMP, the toe apron posing a threat to public safety as the beach erodes through natural processes which will compromise the beach and leave large rocks in place of sand, the IBAS proposal’s ‘unrealistic ‘typical sand layer height’ projections, creation of mini rip embayments and exacerbation of impacts of other rips resulting in a risk to public safety and deeper scouring of the beach and impacts on adjoining crown land’ as areas of concern…

    What sort of message is council sending to the community and the state of NSW when they ignore all advice, public consultation and recommendations and do whatever suites them? For me personally, this is very concerning Sol and it is a slap in the face for environmental scientists, engineers and others who work hard to preserve our unique natural environment and approach coastal management in a well-considered and thorough manor.

    For the rest of the community, if you’d like to know exactly what our stance is on this issue please listen to Ros Elliot’s show tomorrow at 1145am on Bay FM and all of your concerns can be put to rest. We are not against people protecting their properties, we ARE against ill-conceived hasty developments such as the current approved IBAS. Council should leave these issues to those who understand them. ‘Lack of coordinated and consistent coastal management’ as the NSW Coastal Panel points out, has been responsible for the demise of many a natural coastline, with Cairns, the Gold Coast and the Northern Beaches in Sydney but to name a few. Why is the Byron Shire Council following this archaic response to coastal management and following in the failed footsteps of other councils?

    In regards to ‘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’, why haven’t you and the four councilors supporting this project allowed the community to have their say on this Interim Rock wall, why would you rush this through knowing full well that it isn’t interim and that there are grave concerns regarding what I have outlined in this post? I’m sorry Sol, but we just aren’t taking the bait…

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