Historic decision day for coastal management plan

“A HISTORIC meeting” was how Greater Taree City Council mayor Cr Paul Hogan described council’s decisions this week on its coastal zone management plan, following six years of investigations and study.

This included adopting a proposal for a 2km revetment wall to protect development at Old Bar, subject to funding from the State or federal governments.

Old Bar’s Meridian Resort would be protected by a revetment wall under Greater Taree City Council’s coastal zone management plan, adopted this week and sent to the environment minister for certification. Photo by Alan Small, taken last Sunday morning (May 18).

Old Bar’s Meridian Resort would be protected by a revetment wall under Greater Taree City Council’s coastal zone management plan, adopted this week and sent to the environment minister for certification. Photo by Alan Small, taken last Sunday morning (May 18).

A diagram showing past and predicted erosion at Old Bar, published with Greater Taree City Council's business papers for the May meeting.

A diagram showing past and predicted erosion at Old Bar, published with Greater Taree City Council's business papers for the May meeting.

The sea wall proposal has been a controversial one, and Wednesday night’s vote would have been disappointing for the large group of ‘silent protestors’ from the Old Bar Beach Sand Replenishment Group, who were making a last ditch stand to persuade councillors to opt for an artificial offshore reef as a solution to sand and foreshore loss at Old Bar.

At the meeting, council decided to adopt a dual approach to coastal erosion, approving a both planned retreat and active erosion management in the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for the entire Greater Taree coastline to respond to current and possible future impacts of coastal erosion.

The coastal zone management plan covers 32km of coastline between Black Head in the south to Crowdy Head in the north. Council voted to adopt the Black Head to Crowdy Head Coastline Definition Study prepared by Worley Parsons (2010) and the Risk Assessment to Define Appropriate Development Setbacks and Controls in Relation to Coastline Hazards at Old Bar prepared by Royal Haskoning­DHV this year, to define coastal hazards in the Greater Taree local government area.

A planned retreat model was chosen for the coastline in the plan, with the exception of Old Bar, where active management of erosion to public and private land and infrastructure is to be managed by a revetment wall.

“For areas outside Old Bar where planned retreat is the adopted option, this means that both new and existing houses would be required to be removed or relocated when the impacts of coastal erosion place the structures at unacceptable risk,” a council spokesperson said.

“It should be noted that none of the settlements outside Old Bar are currently experiencing coastal erosion. Should this situation change, then the plan can be revisited to ensure that the most appropriate coastal management option will apply. In fact, during the meeting, councillors sought to point out to the community that the adoption of the plan does not preclude council from making changes to the CZMP in the future should new information become available,” the spokesperson said.

The adopted CZMP will now be sent to the NSW Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes for certification.

A lengthy report to council by its senior leader strategic planning Richard Pamplin said the recommended option of protection “considers that the potential loss of between 50 and 200 buildings, mainly private homes, but including the 40 unit Meridian Resort, the Old Bar Public School and the Old Bar SLSC is unacceptable.”

“To date, three dwellings have already been demolished in Lewis Street, and staff have had numerous calls from property owners in Lewis Street and Pacific Parade who are unable to sell their homes involving a mortgagee as property valuers are unable to value the property. 

“While many of the properties are investment, a great many more are homes to Old Bar community members. The potential loss of more homes in Old Bar, as identified by RHDHV (2014) represents a significant cost to individuals and to the community both in financial terms, but also social with the displacement of both short and long term community members,” he said.

The public gallery at Wednesday night’s meeting was packed, with between 25 and 30 Old Bar residents attending to support the reef option and to oppose the sea wall proposal.

Invited to speak on the topic was Mrs Elaine Pearce from the Old Bar Beach Sand Replenish­ment Group, Mark Searles, and Ross Keys, the owner of several properties which were demolished after being undermined by ocean erosion.

Mrs Pearce outlined the group’s concerns, including the loss of the beach as a result of the sea wall and its subsequent effects on tourism, business and development. She raised questions of funding for on-going maintenance to the wall, further stages of it, and the aquisition of beachfront properties.

She said the group believed their reef plan (investigated and developed by ocean scientist Dr Shaw Mead) would protect properties and she referred to ‘much documented evidence’ about the effectiveness of offshore reefs, and sand replenishment, including Narrowneck on the Gold Coast. She urged councillors to investigate for themselves the many reports on the internet about the success of such reefs, and also the work and qualifcations of Dr Mead. 

Mr Searles said he represented a small group which has been investigating the legalities of a revetment wall, which he claimed was in direct contravention of the Coastal Protection Act 1979.

He claimed stage 2 reforms to the CPA were incomplete and it was uncertain whether they would be passed.

He said the alternative to a revetment wall was an ‘integrated approach” comprising revetment, initial re-nourishment of the beach, the duplication of an existing and successful groyne, and the establishment of an off-shore reef to maintain the nourishment of the beach. He believed the proposal would have a similar design life to the revetment wall proposal before council, but would be cheaper to develop.

Cr David Keegan, chairman of the Manning Estuary, Coastline and Catchment Committee, told Mr Searles the revetment option was part of an integrated proposal. He pointed out that a sediment tracing study was underway to determine sand movement and whether a beach renourishment program would be effective. 

Mr Ross Keys, the owner of Old Bar properties which were demolished in 2008 as a result of erosion, urged council to vote on the recommendation, to protect properties and assets at Old Bar.

He said the move would allow the town to move away from the ‘stagnation’ it is currently experiencing, and to allow Old Bar to move into a confident future.

Mr Keys said he had been involved in many of the discussions and studies of the issue over the years and said it was the ‘first time’ he had seen all of the departments agreeing on a direction. “It is an opportunity not to be missed,” he urged.

Cr Keegan addressed many of the issues raised by the speakers, including pointing out that the hydrology at Old Bar Beach, where sand was ‘sucked out to sea and didn’t return”, was vastly differenct to that at Narrowneck.

He pointed out that there were major questions about the effectiveness of reefs and that providing protection for developed property was a priority. 

The complete report presented to Greater Taree City Council is here.

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