By Hans Lovejoy
My expert is more experty than yours.
The topic of Byron shire’s coastal management has thrashed about more than a kid on their first dental visit, but in this case, there appears to be no happy-gas ending: we are headed to becoming like the Gold Coast. Seriously.
The previous meeting saw an unusual occurrence, where the left leaning Byron shire councillors held the balance of power.
They pushed a motion through that would explore all the things the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) are saying – if you place hard things on beaches, you eventually lose the beach.
And if you lose the beach, then perhaps you might need to replenish the beach with an expensive sand nourishment program, and so on.
With the right wing back in charge at this meeting, it was time to ignore all that nonsense and tell the chamber loudly and confidently that their well-paid experts are better than the government’s.
The motion, which eventually passed, notes that a recent meeting took place with relevant parties – except councillors – over the cost benefit analysis (CBA) regarding the Coastal Hazard Management Study Byron Bay Embayment.
What’s that? It’s like the Local Environment Plan of the coast, and is being formulated as we speak by consultants to presumably recommend that rock wall type structures should be a preferred means of coastal management.
Cr Duncan Dey was the first to stick the needle in. ‘This is a case of science,’ he began.
‘What’s being knocked back in the motion today is simply statement of fact that has come from papers, investigations and documents etc from people who know what they are doing.
‘And they are being knocked back by people who have an opinion about the facts and figures that are being presented. So it’s a sad day for the coast. OEH have told us that when you do the cost benefit analysis correctly, planned retreat comes up the winner. And we don’t want to know about that, so we are going to rescind the motion that recognises that and replace it with one that doesn’t.
‘It’s window dressing. The reality is that the right way to deal with the coast is not have real estate occupying the beach, and this is probably the biggest contention.’
Cr Di Woods replied that, ‘We are reviewing, as result of OEH’s… umm arrr help – you may call it help, I call it interference. So we are doing what they want. I’m not being guided not by my view, but what our consultants [say]… who we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to – over and over and over again. Millions of dollars, for their expert opinion. We decided that OEH, who have had their little say again and again, every time we get close… okay, we’ll listen to what you have to say.’
Cr Basil Cameron challenged Cr Woods on the difference between ‘our experts and theirs’.
‘There’s a clear difference – our so called experts were paid by us,’ he said. ‘They had an interest. The results were so appalling that what we got was what they thought we wanted. At best. OEH are not being paid by us. They have the public interest at heart,’ Cr Cameron said.
Cr Woods then defended that her faction was not addressing sand nourishment, and said, ‘the minister made a recent decision at Wirre beach…?’
For a moment Cr Woods is unsure of the name of the beach, however she was corrected by senior planner Shannon Burt, who said: “Wooli”.
Cr Woods continued, ‘They have said you cannot do sand nourishment. So let’s wait for our proposal…’
It was a heady and passionate debate, broken only by the momentary light unintentional humour of Cr Rose Wanchap sincerely asking why – if beaches will be lost to rocks walls – why has Belongil and the surf club at Main Beach still got sand (hint Rose: have a look at an old aerial photo of Byron).
Cr Dey refuted the idea that just because sand wasn’t brought in at Wooli beach doesn’t mean other places are OK. He referenced Jimmy’s Beach at Hawkes Nest.
‘They are struggling’, he said. ‘There’s a road in front of the beach, and it gets washed away when swells come into the bay because the bay faces south east.’
Cr Dey says that council consumed the first and second available sand sources and are now looking at their third. ‘And they don’t have one’.
‘We need to examine if it’s feasible to bring sand into Belongil. I agree – I don’t think it is. Then we need to be honest and say: “No sand nourishment, it will just be rock.”’ He finished by saying that the Belongil five were about to remove that discussion form the table.
It was those comments that fired up Cr Sol Ibrahim, the self-appointed pro-development faction leader, who said, ‘We in NSW accept that there are places that we believe that the value of infrastructure and assets is so great – and the impact on the community will be so great – that we will lose the beach.’
‘Eventually, with sea level rise, and other factors. For example on the Gold Coast, there’s no question of planned retreat there. Walls are going up, and in 20, 30, 40 years time there maybe a time where there is no beach. And the Gold Coast will have to deal with that. Because it’s accepted that removing high rises and roads etc – the cost is just too great. It’s the same in Sydney. It’s also happened at Lennox Head, at certain times of the year.’
Cr Ibrahim also spoke of what he believes are engineering models that will allow a beach to still exist.
He concluded with: ‘The real debate is – when does the cost of retreat become so great that it exceeds the cost of losing the beach? When is too costly? Do we have enough beaches around?’
There you have it: under this council led by Cr Ibrahim and his slim-majority faction, Byron Shire is set to become like the Gold Coast. As a shire, are we all prepared to make the decision to sacrifice/lose our iconic coast to beachfront real estate?
It appears the ‘Belongil Five’ (the pro-development faction) have made their minds up on our behalf.
So who are WRL?
Cr Woods says repeatedly that council have ‘spent millions’ with these consultants, who are drafting coastal plans which will be submitted to the state for approval.
From their website www.wrl.unsw.edu.au/about-us, they say:
‘WRL can best be described as an expert problem solver in engineering relating to water, the coast, the environment and groundwater. WRL undertakes commercial projects that address complicated water engineering problems…’
Are they impartial to looking at other options other than commercial projects? You decide.