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Byron Shire
January 26, 2022

Seawall shemozzle without legal clarity

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Belongil Beach, Rock Wall. Sunday June 5 – Photo Mary Gardener
Belongil Beach, Rock Wall. Sunday June 5 – Photo Mary Gardener

Hans Lovejoy

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.

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  1. I’d love to hear as to why the new properly designed seawall will destroy the beach and environment as claimed – when the existing 1.1km seawall hasn’t since being built 40 years ago. This is totally illogical. But a nice try! People are not that stupid… People need to understand the fact that the old wall is not going anywhere so the improved wall only brings enhancements for all.

    • David (That is you, David Trewern, Belongil landowner, yes?) You are only correct when you say that “People are not that stupid…”.
      The old wall is going the way of all seawalls, slowly but surely undermined by ever rising seas. The only thing that will keep a wall there is money…. truckloads of it over many years until the sea gets the last word. And this CZMP gets the property owners to throw in for construction and then leaves all those future years of truckloads of cash to come out of our rates and whatever public handouts we can beg for. Pity we lost a million dollar contribution from OEH because the CZMP is inadequate in addressing any future planning or impacts on public lands to the north.

      Parts of the seawall do go back 40 years yes. Many of those original parts are now strewn about the lower tidal zone…. but I saw most of the north end of the wall being constructed in the late 1990s and 2000s. so to say it’s been there 40 years is not really true, is it? This expansion had its impact. The 2009 event chewed a good 30m+ at the end of the (new) wall. The sandbags protecting this significant erosion scarp now head back towards the creek. The land being eaten away is part Cumbebin Nature Reserve, part Crown and includes the shorebird site at the Belongil entrance. Loss of this land, and of course the beach in front of the wall at high tide, is in no way an “enhancement for all” when the natural dunes of Belongil Spit are all that protects the Belongil (and town) from deeper flooding in major ocean events.

      So to answer your question, continuing to support landowners maintaining and extending the wall at Belongil is just hastening the breakthrough at the end of the wall. Reflected energy from a continuous wall is transferred to the end junction of wall and dune. The existing broken wall has had this effect moderated at each break in the wall, but now it is hastened by the combined illegal rock dumping and interim works of 1998-present. The gaps in the wall that reduce cumulative transfer to the northern part of the spit are now disappearing. The effect of completing the wall is to maximise erosion impacts at the northern end, hastening breakthrough of the spit. Those coastal experts are pretty clear about that.

      Why doesn’t the CZMP look at those impacts and what it means for the town? The plan as it stands is to build a wall and monitor what happens. No contingencies, no costing for the totally predictable loss of beach, nature reseve, shorebird habitat, creek entrance. People are not that stupid…..

      • But Andrew, why would the new wall have more impact than the old wall (which by the way has had virtually no maintenance). The whole point of the new wall is to have a properly designed structure that provides better protection, fills gaps (on council land) looks better, provides better amenity and has less environmental impacts. And council that tried to bring planned retreat in after the 2010 debarcle would be quickly sacked. So the community has two choices… The old 1.1km wall and no Coastal Plan, or a new better wall for all, and a plan for managing the coast which includes funding, ongoing reporting and management. Seems like a no brainier to me. And if you look at what is happening in Sydney things are moving in this direction at the OEH not the other way.

  2. It is interesting that a certain councilor who is extremely pro wall and is rumored to be not standing for council again is leaving the shire next year and moving to QLD.
    So if this is true we know she won’t have to worry about on going cost to the community of the wall of remorse as she wont be here to contribute.
    Should that councilor declare a “LACK OF INTERNIST” in the debate rather that worry about a pecuniary internist. ?????

  3. I do not live in Byron Bay but I have visited it numerous times and hope to visit it in the future. I would be very disappointed if I would not be able to access Belongil Beach from the town (or worse if it no longer existed).

    • Lucy, would you call a bike path through your backyard an enhancement? Over an existing, legal, community built rock wall that I already have? And we know each other, we even have Facebook friends in common!

  4. Hans, thank you for shining a light on several of the alarming issues that were raised by concerned and in the main very well informed residents at the CZMP community meeting in Byron last week. To propose a massive rock wall solution without consideration for the consequences and who foots the bills for any future work or potential law suits – to say nothing of the ecological damage – is obscene and simply bad planning practice. The community needs more time to consider the full ramifications of this plan ahead of attempts by the gang of five to ram it through council by the 30 June deadline, after which the whole coastal planning process changes and the chance of a rock wall like the one proposed ever being built diminishes. The September elections will be a good litmus test for what the community thinks about having a gun held to its head over this issue.

  5. David ? obviously has a lot to lose but hasn’t realised he will inevitably lose it as coastal processes continue in the global warming environment. He is obviously a newcomer to the history and the science we have been dealing with for decades but like all deniers of science he will cling to his illusions but placing his faith in the Belongil 5 is a triumph of hope over experience.
    As to the number of properties with pre-1988 status I do not think the council has done its homework. Any property that has changed hands or has had had DA alterations since 88 come in the post-88 category. Jan Barhams’s calculation (and she knows a lot more than recent council officers}, is about two pre-88s left.

  6. Thanks Hans for the cut out editorial. I have posted it along with my own opposition to the Council’s
    CZMP BBE (especially the Belongil seawall component.)
    Keep up the good editorials.
    Meg Walker

  7. David? ( Who ever ) who pays for construction ?who pays for repair and maintance? who pays for north beach protection? who pays for sand nourishment ? how do you (sorry) we protect against flooding from the south side ?where does the sand come from? oh and the groins what is their cost ? what about the migrants the birds? and i suppose its fair to ask why do the community reimburse a stupid land purchase in the first place ? its not that the land owners did not know what and where they were buying. You might be right on one thingDavid (who ever) the rockwalls wont be going any where unless removed they will just turn into off shour reefs as the sea rises. Its not an easy or pleasant decision but planned retreat is the only long term realistic option. Mate to say that a multi million wall with a walking track on top is an improvement an enhancment to walking along a beach you must be blood kidding…oh year climate chang is happening sea levels are rising but may be in your world of science fiction it aint so

  8. Lucy council records show that the Council first resolved to prepare a CZMP on 18th October 1996. I think 20 years is long enough for this to I have gone on. It is appaling that one of the most iconic Coastal areas in Australia doesn’t have a CZMP, because the last Council wasted the community money for years on a CZMP that was not implementable.


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