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Byron Shire
March 3, 2021

Should economists decide on coastal zone policy?

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Timely letter from Mary Gardner on the limited options being considered for the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP).

Will it be seawalls, groynes, sand pumping, a combination of these or will it be planned retreat, where the shoreline is allowed to move back over time? This is a huge question for Byron Shire with big cost implications. We need to get it right.

The draft Management Study examines the options and gives the highest ranking to engineered rock and sand ’transfer’ schemes. In reaching this conclusion, how have the myriad issues under the ‘socio-ecological’ banner been considered?

The loss of the beach and the impacts on the environment, tourism and the economy are key questions. Equally important is how well planned retreat has been understood and considered as an option. What are the costs of each option and how will we pay?

In the study these questions are reduced dispassionately to one simple phrase, Benefit Cost Ratio or BCR. This is an assessment of the economic value of benefits and costs for each option. How did the economist determine the BCR for each option? Answer, by making assumptions. Assumptions about the future of house prices, the economy, impacts on tourism and the costs of implementing planned retreat among other things. Natural environment is not valued.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) have reviewed the study and produced an alternative analysis that gives planned retreat the highest ranking BCR. Amongst other things, the original BCR rankings in the study assumed that all the costs of planned retreat would occur immediately instead of gradually over time. An incredible miscalculation that shows how critical the assumptions are. The comments from OEH are appended to Report 13.9 of this week’s council agenda.

So, are we going to make a far reaching decision based on a couple of digits without understanding fully the underlying assumptions of each BCR? Wouldn’t it be better if our decision-making was informed by the social, cultural and environmental values of our community as much as the economic cost?

Byron Shire Cr Basil Cameron

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