Bored with the Belongil rock wall yabber yabber? You bet – but part of the reason it’s dragged on for so long has been the lack of authority within the debate.
The pros and cons have largely been dominated by politically driven, non-expert councillors.
But a qualified scientific opinion has now been voiced, with the chair of the NSW Coastal Panel telling The Echo he and his colleagues have ‘significant reservations’ about the project, including the use of temporary walls, which can dislodge during large storm events.
Angus Gordon also explained why the panel has only been able to make a limited contribution to the Belongil rock wall project.
The NSW Coastal Panel are possibly the most authoritative voice on all coastal matters, and provide advice to Councils and the state government, specifically on ‘impacts of rock revetments on beaches and public beach amenity’.
Mr Gordon’s comments came in response to a press release last week by The Byron Preservation Association (BPA) – who have accused the Greens of publishing inaccurate information on flyers.
Specifically BPA say MP Tamara Smith inexplicably withdrew an online petition after being queried about its claims.
So who are BPA? They are headed by chairman of Ramsay Health Care, Michael Siddle. Ramsay is ‘one of the top five private hospital operators in the world,’ according to its website.
Mr Siddle says BPA are a ‘not-for-profit organisation concerned about coastal issues in the Byron Shire who object to the principle of planned retreat in urban areas.’
He says, ‘These rock walls will protect a majority of public land, not private land as the petition and flyer said, and will not cause further erosion or the loss of beach.
‘The community need to know the facts, not the misinformation are pushing as it may have long-term ramifications for other beaches in the Shire which may also need to be protected.’
Mr Siddle went on to say that the review into environmental factors of the project by consultants UMWELT paints a different picture to what the Greens are saying.
He claims the, ‘Coastal Panel’s concerns were relatively minor in nature,’ and quoted the report’s statement: ‘Scenic amenity not adversely affected.’
Mr Siddle added, ‘There is no evidence at all that the proposed interim rock wall accelerates the erosion of the beach… the evidence is the opposite conclusion. Only the Jonson Street structure is accelerating erosion.’
While the office of Ms Smith declined to comment, the NSW coastal panel’s Angus Gordon gave a detailed explanation to of issues raised by Mr Siddle.
Mr Gordon told The Echo, ‘The statement that, “the NSW Coastal Panel’s concerns over the Belongil rock wall proposal were relatively minor in nature” is incorrect.
‘The panel includes three specialists, each with over 40 years’ experience in coastal issues and in particular the impact of rock revetments on beaches and the public beach amenity.
‘Because Byron Council decided to use the Infrastructure SEPP, and thereby make itself the approval authority, the only role the NSW Coastal Panel can play under the Coastal Protection Act is to provide “Matters For Consideration” for the Council in its decision making.
‘This role significantly limits the NSW panel’s ability to make its views known.
‘After the NSW Panel provided the “Matters for Consideration” clearly Byron Council did not consider them “relatively minor in nature,” as Council specifically requested a meeting with the panel so that the panel could “explain” its position.
‘That meeting occurred and the panel certainly did “explain” to Council the significant reservations the panel had in regard to the proposed wall; reservations which continue.
‘One of the matters the panel specifically addressed with Council was the panel’s concern about the amenity being adversely affected.
‘A matter of concern brought to the attention of Council, that appears to be overlooked by what, based on your [correspondence], appears to be the UMWELT assessment, is the fact that a “temporary” wall with a lower design standard than a permanent wall can result in rocks being dislodged (as has already occurred with some of the existing walls), thereby creating a hazard for beach users and particularly for surfers.
‘To treat the “amenity” simply from a visual perspective suggest a limited experience with the impacts of rocks on beaches.’
Nourishment seen as important
Regarding the expected loss of beach owing to rock walls, Mr Gordon said, ‘The technical literature abounds with papers and articles regarding the adverse impacts of artificial walls on beaches.
‘The basic explanation is that a beach absorbs the breaking wave energy whereas a wall reflects at least some of that energy thereby increasing the energy available to promote erosion in front of the wall.
‘That is why appropriate beach nourishment is seen as an important adjunct to the construction of such walls.
‘Interestingly, one of the reasons accelerated erosion occurs when an erosion escarpment forms is again the reflected waves from that vertical wall.
‘That is, although the escarpment is in itself eroding back, the reflected wave off its face helps remove the sand in the swash zone and takes it offshore. If this mechanism were not present the escarpment would simply collapse and the erosion stop.
‘Any person who has observed wave attack on a vertical erosion escarpment would have witnessed this phenomenon; it doesn’t require any specific expertise to see the adverse impacts of any structure that reflects waves.
‘As far as the Jonson Street wall is concerned, my 1978 report, Byron Bay-Hastings Point Erosion Study, clearly pointed out that the Jonson Street wall was having an adverse impact on erosion along Belongil, but was not the only reason for the erosion.
‘The Jonson Street Wall was constructed to stabilise Main Beach because of the natural sediment deficiency at this point in history along this section of the north coast.
‘The 1978 report put forward a number of management options for Belongil, including rock walls and/or a groyne field as well as retreat and in 1986 – I believe this is the correct date – it is my understanding that Council resolved to adopt a policy of retreat for Belongil and therefore the DCP called for demountable/relocatable housing. I am not aware whether Council has ever rescinded this resolution.
‘It is inappropriate for me, as chair of the NSW Panel, to have a view on the type of coastal management the people of Byron wish to have at Belongil; however, it is important that whatever decision is made, the full ramifications of that decision need to be understood.’