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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Belongil rock wall faces legal challenge

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Legal options are now being explored by a local marine conservation group to ensure Byron council undertakes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before building its planned Belongil rock wall.

It comes as the project’s legal liabilities on neighbouring walls have been described as ‘uncertain’ by the council’s lawyers.

Local environment group Positive Change for Marine Life (PCFML), in partnership with the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), has requested they be given 72 hours notice of construction, which the council has agreed to.

The 100-odd metre rock wall will replace ageing geobags, which currently connect two stretches of rock walls, believed to be below engineering standards and built by residents in the 1990s.

While the $1m project is expected to start shortly, it has not been subjected to the normal process of a development application (DA), which includes public submissions and an environmental assessment.

Instead, the project has successfully avoided environmental scrutiny and is classed as an infrastructure state environmental planning policy (SEPP), which limits input from the NSW Coastal Panel, among others.

And despite it being legal, the project has no mitigation plan in place for the expected loss of sand.

The push for the controversial project is by the majority rightwing Crs Ibrahim, Hunter, Woods, Cubis and Greens turncoat Wanchap.

PCFML founder Karl Goodsell says, ‘In light of the evidence of environmental impacts created by walls such as these, as well as the findings of coastal management experts who we have consulted with on this issue, we have decided to explore legal options to ensure that an EIS is carried out before any construction commences.’

‘This is a band-aid fix to a very complex problem, one that will only be exacerbated as climate-induced sea-level rise increases.

‘We are deeply concerned that this wall will have a negative impact on coastal geomorphology and contribute to further coastal erosion and environmental problems long into the future. Community groups, scientists, coastal experts, four of nine Byron Shire councillors – even the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and NSW Coastal Panel – have expressed serious concerns with the wall and, having exhausted all other avenues, we have decided to take this matter further.’

Unknown outcomes

And adding to the project’s unknown outcomes is recent legal advice by Council’s lawyers that the legal ramifications to neighbouring walls are uncertain.

The comment is included in the upcoming council agenda, and comes in response to Cr Duncan Dey’s question surrounding the hydraulic impact of the project on neighbouring walls, ‘which are known to be of lower strength’.

In their answer, staff say in the agenda, ‘Further potential issues may arise in the present case in relation to “legal liabilities”, including the involvement of third parties, climate change impacts and legislative controls.’

The advice concludes with, ‘Legal Services cannot definitively comment on the “certainty” that the proposed IBAS walls will not create “legal liabilities”, in circumstances where so little is known about the facts that would go to determining the issue.’

Meanwhile PCFML’s Mr Goodsell said that with legal fees and independent expert reports being undertaken, a crowdfunding campaign is now underway. Supporters can visit www.positivechangeformarinelife.org to help with thier campaign expenses.


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