With the June 14 public submission deadline for Council’s coastal policy looming, it’s emerged that there is no legal clarity as to the the ownership of, and liability for, the 1.1km seawall proposal along Belongil beach.
Council staff have told The Echo that ownership of a Belongil seawall is ‘yet to be determined’ and the funding agreement from landowners would be drawn up after the public consultation process.
And just as remarkable is that there appears no post-construction management to mitigate expected sand loss – not only for Belongil Beach – but also for the neighbouring Elements resort.
Seawalls are known to not only erode beaches in front, but also beaches adjacent.
These are just two unclear aspects of the the seawall component within the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan Byron Bay Embayment (CZMP BBE), which comes in a total of five parts and 316 pages.
The plan, by consultants WRL, has been led vigorously – and somewhat belligerently – by Crs Ibrahim, Woods, Hunter, Cubis and Wanchap. Mayor Richardson, Crs Dey, Cameron and Spooner have consistently voted against the plans.
The seawall proposal aims to reverse a policy of planned retreat, which has existed for around 30 years.
Those who purchased a Belongil beachfront property prior to 1988 appear exempt under planned retreat policy, whereas those who purchased after 1988 were required to have a relocatable structure.
So how many properties are affected by this policy? Staff told The Echo, ‘In 2011, it was reported to Council that nine properties in the Belongil beachfront area had residential structures with provisions requiring the relocation of the entirety of that development in relation to the position of the erosion escarpment’.
They said, ‘Seven properties had structures with a partial restriction placed on the development, ie through an approved alteration or addition to an existing structure. At the time of the audit, there were 28 properties in the Belongil beachfront area.’
It’s also understood that the planned retreat policy has never been implemented owing to court challenges from Belongil landowners.
Other unanswered issues – should the seawall plan be adopted – include ecological, tourism and amenity impacts, which have all but been virtually ignored within the CZMP BBE.
That should be a major concern for the community, says mayor Simon Richardson.
Unknown cost: mayor
He told The Echo the terms of ongoing ‘adaptive’ measures within the plan are unknown, as is the cost.
‘This was one of the main reasons the previous CZMP ultimately proposed planned retreat over sand transfer, or beach-scraping options.
‘Unlike now, the earlier CZMP sought to have questions on impacts and costs and logistics answered prior to decisions being made; that [previous] Council performed their due diligence and did the hard work.’
He says the previous CZMP found the costs and location of transferring sand ‘were way too high for the community to pay and beach scraping was not possible’.
‘In contrast, in this proposed management plan there is nothing that outlines what will occur if the beach disappears. If sand is to be transferred from somewhere else we haven’t identified the location of the sand, costed any transfer works or looked at the impacts of transferring sand. In fact, there is nothing in the plan to actually maintain a beach, only a commitment to monitor it as it disappears.
The mayor continued, ‘Any impacts on the Belongil Creek will only be observed after the wall is built rather than prior to works, and Council is proposing to allow and share in the building of a wall with no clarity as to who owns it or is liable for damages to the north.’
No govt advice
‘In fact we haven’t even sought or requested acceptance from Crown Lands that they will pay their share of the multimillion-dollar bill.
‘This proposed plan is legally, environmentally and financially vague and irresponsible. Over the past year in particular, this plan has also been plagued by political opportunism – the mad desire to get it done before the upcoming election has resulted in a shameful lack of professionalism in providing staff adequate time to do the required preparatory work, and indecent, scornful lack of community consultation.’
Meanwhile staff have declined to say how many landowners will pay for the seawall, and say that a funding agreement would be drawn up after the consultation process had closed.
Council’s director of sustainable environment and economy Shannon Burt said, ‘Part of the current consultation considers what a funding model would look like and how it would be managed.
‘Belongil landowners include private, state and Byron Shire Council,’ she said.
Seawall a risk for Elements resort
The impacts for a $100m resort next to the planned seawall are not so good, however, according to the report’s ‘Part B, B2.2.1 North Beach’.
While the CZMP didn’t investigate those impacts, modelling from an earlier 2013 BMT WBM report says a Belongil seawall could resulted in a ‘greater area of land at risk from coastal erosion at North Beach’ than would having no Belongil seawall.
It reads, ‘It is possible that a combination of coastal and estuarine processes, notably Belongil Creek entrance instability and wave propagation across the entrance of Belongil Creek, will pose a risk to existing or future development and property located in the North Beach precinct over the CZMP planning timeframes.’
The Echo asked Elements manager Jeremy Holmes if he had been approached by the landowners to seek an agreement over the 1.1km seawall, to which he replied ‘no’.
Mr Holmes told The Echo that after he attends a landholders presentation and has all the information, he will be in a position to comment.
Cr Woods relying on previous advice
As to what legal advice Cr Woods is relying upon for the seawall proposal, she told The Echo, ‘We had legal advice in the previous term of Council and I still have a copy of it.’
‘As you are well aware, legal advice is confidential; however, I am very confident we have made the right decisions moving forward.’
Remarkably, Cr Woods also claims there are ‘no legal implications for the Elements resort.’
She said, ‘They have their own plans for mitigating their property, and is yet to be dealt with. There is one legal certainty about the current draft CZMP, and that is we will not be spending millions of dollars in court trying to deal with throwing people off their land.
‘And by the way, don’t forget that Jonson Street protection works have been instrumental in the current situation and no-one is talking about pulling the rocks out there.’
Within the CZMP BBE, Belongil beachfront landowners have agreed – which appears non-binding so far – to pay $12,150,000 for the project, while Council would be expected to stump up $1,087,500.
To have your say before June 14, visit http://bit.ly/243RvSE.