With Ballina Shire Council, Jali people, MP Tamara Smith and concerned residents united about the need to do something about 4WD-related destruction on the southern beaches, Crown Lands may be the missing part of the puzzle.
With school and public holidays recently, and the extension of the border bubble, residents of the beaches south of Ballina are reporting that the 4WD traffic, volume and behaviour is getting worse every weekend.
Local resident Megan Ward told Echonetdaily, ‘I walk along the beach and talk to the people at Patchs Beach.
‘Every second person stops to chat with me and as our eyes meet, another convoy of 4WDs drives past just two metres away from us. People are getting so upset.’
Stephen Totterman from the Coastal Defenders Network says the October long weekend falls in the middle of the pied oystercatcher breeding season (August-December), putting further pressure on the species, which is endangered in NSW.
Mr Totterham has recorded 4WDs driving at high speeds on the beaches, many dogs in prohibited areas, and illegal driving in National Park areas and has brought this evidence to the attention of Crown Lands, National Parks and local councillors and staff, so far to no avail.
He argues that the only solution is to lock the beach to 4WDs.
Operation Thor’s Hammer
In this recent police operation (conducted in conjunction with Richmond Valley Council Rangers), officers targeted anti-social behaviour, traffic matters and National Parks legislation on beach areas from Airforce Beach Evans head north to South Ballina.
Rangers recorded 25 warnings for various offences and 50 infringements for dogs in prohibited zones, speed offences, driving offences, being above the high tide area and dunes.
NSW Police (Lower Rivers) recorded:
- 150 RBT offences
- 6 Negligent Driving Offences (fish tailing and burnouts on sand)
- 7 Move-on directions from beach area
- 1 Bike helmet Offence
- 6 Speeding offences
Police say similar operations will continue in the coming months as part of Operation Summer Safe.
In spite of the increased police presence, residents of the southern beaches say the dangerous and destructive 4WD activity is continuing unabated.
Megan Ward said that after the land manager’s meeting in August this year she was advised that Crown Lands would be making a submission to their minister Melinda Pavey, and Matt Kean (Environment Minister), saying that ‘South Ballina Beach would be closed to 4WD in alignment with Ballina Shire Council’s desire to ban 4WDs from the beach due to social and environmental concerns,’ but since then nothing has been done.
She describes it as ‘a closed system with no accountability’.
Ms Ward said one of her neighbours is putting up concrete barriers to try to stop continued incursions of 4WDs to the dunes through his property, but doesn’t feel personally that ‘scores of concrete barriers’ on the dunes is a solution, and may in fact cause dune regeneration problems in the future, once 4WDs are banned.
‘It seems a desperate plea from someone trying to protect their property from unlawfulness,’ Ms Ward said, ‘and another unfortunate consequence of continued inaction on the part of the authorities’.
While remaining hopeful that the ‘right decision’ will be made within ministerial offices, she says that after months of questions and public debate about the beaches, one key question remains.
‘Ethically, morally and legally why do Crown Lands continues to allow 4WDs on South Ballina Beach, with no land managers or ability to monitor the behaviour of this unparalleled destruction?’ she asks.
‘It would be so easy to close the beaches off to safeguard the public and the environment immediately, until such time as land managers could be appointed,’ said Ms Ward.
‘To just allow a coastal ecosystem to be destroyed does not make sense.’
More stories about 4WDs on South Ballina Beach
An attempt to enlarge the list of approved 4WD beach users allowed to access South Ballina Beach failed to get the numbers to progress at the last Ballina Shire Council meeting.
At today's Ballina Council meeting, Cr Keith Williams is going to urge council to write to the NSW Minister for Crown Lands about South Ballina beach, which has recently been closed to public 4WD access.
The closure of South Ballina Beach and Evans Head to 4WDs and other vehicles has been met with a mixed response.
The debate about the future of the beaches south of Ballina is heating up again as councils and concerned citizens grapple with the ongoing issue of 4WD-related damage.
Stephen Totterman from Coastal Defenders Network said the National Parks and Wildlife Service's response to his concerns about 4WD impacts on the pied oystercatcher population on the beaches south of Ballina is 'unsatisfactory'.