DEVASTATED, shocked, disappointed. That is the reaction of Meridian Resort manager, Paul Burton to the decision of the NSW Coastal Panel to reject its application to build coastal erosion protection works at Old Bar.
The resort and four Lewis Street residents, also co-signatories to the application Ross Keys, Ivan Handel, Lee and Michelle Milford and Malcolm Black sought approval from the panel to build a protective seawall across their beach frontage, to slow down the relentless wave and wind action gouging away at their grounds.
Twenty-five metres of beachfront has disappeared in front of Meridian's 41 apartments in 12 years which equates to 2500 square metres. Only 26 metres of ground now remain between the fragile clifftop and the resort's frontline apartments.
The estimated one million dollar development application proposed the construction of a 'soft seawall', a series of sand-filled geofabric bags angled from sea level up to a height of six or seven metres.
Mr Burton is reeling at the decision and his anger is palpable.
He said the resort invested the lion's share of $50,000 to engage International Coastal Management, "the very best people in the business and not some Mickey Mouse unit down the road", to design the sea wall and manage the development application process.
"Nobody could have done it better and it has all been for nothing," he lamented.
Acting chair of the NSW Coastal Panel, Derek Rutherford said the panel had carefully considered the proposal and determined that it could not give consent to the development application.
"The panel considered the initial application and subsequent amendments offered by the applicant in response to our concerns, as well as expert technical and planning advice," Mr Rutherford said.
"Under the Coastal Protection Act 1979 the panel has clear tests that must be met to allow it to grant approval to coastal erosion protection works.
"The panel may only approve works where it is satisfied that adequate arrangements are in place to maintain the works over their expected life and to address erosion to the beach and adjacent lands that is likely to be caused by the works.
"It must also be satisfied that the works will not unreasonably limit public access, to or use of the beach, or pose a threat to public safety.
"In this instance, following extensive consideration, the panel was not satisfied that the likely impact of the works on the beach and adjacent lands could be adequately managed."
Mr Rutherford said the panel was particularly concerned about "end effects" likely to be caused by the works that is, enhanced erosion of the beach, dunes and other land at the end of the works.
"Without an adequate strategy and funding arrangements to manage any effects, adjacent private properties and public lands will be impacted and public access and safety may be compromised," Mr Rutherford said.
"Public access, safety and satisfactory funding arrangements for maintenance and damage restoration are the key considerations for granting consent under the Act, and the panel was not satisfied that these were met by the application."
Mr Burton is damning of comments made by Mr Rutherford. In particular, identifying the issue of public safety as a key consideration for granting consent.
"If nothing is done there is a very real danger to public safety. Kids play in the dunes, bury into and build caves in the dunes but the panel doesn't care about it. When it came to Old Bar in April I put the issue of public safety to them, and do you know what the response was? Do you have public liability insurance? They did not care that a kid could get killed," Mr Burton said.
Mr Burton is frustrated by the panel's concern about the "end effects" that would be caused by construction of the wall.
"Of course there will be end effects, but we engaged the best in the business to design a wall that minimizes the impact to the absolute minimum and its impact is focused. The "end effect" would be right at the end of the wall and it could be as little as a one metre impact or a 20-metre impact. No-one knows and mitigation work to address end effects was built into the application. However, the panel seems to be only looking at, and responding to, the worst case scenario and that may never eventuate."
Mr Rutherford said the NSW Coastal Panel recognised the real and immediate threat from ongoing coastal erosion to properties at Old Bar.
"We support an integrated and long term solution for the whole of Old Bar Beach, which involve the wider community, council and all beachfront landholders and managers of public lands," Mr Rutherford said.
"The panel is aware that the Office of Environment and Heritage will be meeting with Greater Taree City Council in early August to discuss coastal erosion at Old Bar, and council's ongoing management of the coastline.
As for Mr Burton and the residents of Lewis Street, it is time to talk, regroup and decide if they will appeal to the Land and Environment Court.