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Byron Shire
March 21, 2023

Rock-wall court case on shifting sands

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Dear Cr Sol Ibrahim: I write in regards the forthcoming meeting of Byron Shire Council on 14 July to consider the $100 million lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court in December 2010.

I write as a retired chartered civil engineer with experience designing and building major and minor civil engineering and building projects for nearly forty years including one project for the design and construction management of the rehabilitation works for 12 of Sydney’s beaches.

When I retired, it was as a senior project manager on projects valued over a hundred million dollars for NSW state and local government  clients.

Based on my long experience of contract management, I surmise that the filed lawsuit is but an ambit claim to scare council into negotiating a settlement for something much less, such as rock seawalls in front of endangered properties.

The final agreement doubtless will be agreed between council’s insurers and legal advisers and the claimants with little basis for the realities of the facts claimed or the impact on our beaches.

I recall a case early in my career when a young driver late one night drove across three lanes of traffic to the opposite side of the road to crash into very expensive infrastructure being built that I was the project engineer for.

Our side wanted the driver’s insurers to pay for the damage and his insurers claimed we hadn’t protected our equipment adequately which was untrue.

The case went to court but on day two the insurers settled as the court costs were exceeding the money claimed despite a very strong case by our side.

It was an early lesson for me that being right does not always mean you win when financiers and lawyers get involved.

So what will the settlement be for council – an agreement that will have rock walls built along our beach to protect the few at the expense of the many?

That council and its community will be saddled with ongoing maintenance costs for ever?

That the beach in front of the walls will disappear as the ocean dissipates its energy against the rocks and flushes away the sand?

That Byron Bay loses one of its major natural tourist assets?

That council will be exposed to future claims from property owners further along the beach from the effects of the these new rock walls?

And other unknown and unquantifiable costs at this time. Taken in the long term of 50 to 100 years $100 million might seem a cheap option.

But perhaps the decision will be not to settle but to stand firm and call the claimant’s bluff – with the exception of a few, the property owners knew that they were purchasing land subject to the whims of the elements and should have factored that into their decision to buy and accept the risk, or not to buy.

And then we, the Byron community, could retain our beach.

I recall your election to council and the fact that you lived in Bangalow, my local town in Byron Shire.

I thought you might be good for our end of the shire, but what would the settlement of this claim mean for the Bangalow and surrounding communities who I thought you are there to represent?

What do rock walls at Belongil mean for those who live in the hills except an ongoing drain on our rates and loss of our beach?

They mean less money to repair our country roads, less to spend on community assets like playing fields for our children and grandchildren and less for all the other services that councils are increasingly expected to provide for their communities.

When you vote on Thursday I ask that you please consider all the impacts of your decision, for both the short term and the long term.

When you are no longer on council will you be able to look back and be proud of your decisions made on behalf of the community, all of the community, that put you there and trusted you to look after their interests?

I ask that you reject a settlement unless you are truly convinced that it is for a solution that will really benefit all of the Byron shire community both now and into the future and the court case is really not winnable.

Andrew Winton-Brown, Possum Creek

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  1. Exactly my thoughts, Andrew. When I moved to the North Coast in 1977 I looked at a house at Belongil with sea views and a price of $50,000. I did some research and the cyclonic event of 1973 showed that houses in that zone fell into the sea.

    I thought that I would have to have rocks in my head to buy there.


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