Wamberal Seawall looks more likely in the wake of Collaroy
We've all seen what’s happening at Collaroy in the wake of the current E/NE swell from ex-Tropical Cyclone Seth.
In terms of what is possible, this week’s swell event is relatively modest, made worse by coincident Spring tides.
Critics of the soviet-style seawall at Collaroy - who claimed the hard structure would set a precedent for other coastal councils trying to deal with the problem of storm-enhanced erosion threatening expensive beach-side real estate and infrastructure - look to have had fears confirmed.
Wamberal, on the Central Coast, is moving inexorably towards copying the Collaroy ‘solution’, if the current trajectory is maintained. Wamberal is an erosion hot spot, and according to a former Town Planner for the Central Coast Council who wished to remain anonymous, a “fucking nightmare that no-one wants to pay for.”
That is an especially cogent argument for the financially strapped Central Coast Council who don't have the bikkies for the wall, estimated by engineers to cost in the 25-40 million dollar range.
There is a ‘solution’ to that problem though.
As the Wamberal Seawall Advisory Taskforce noted in its last Meeting Record Minutes, one path forwards for Councils is to get property owners to pay for the wall and for council to act merely as the consenting authority.
The property owners are represented by the Wamberal Protection Association (WPA). On Oct 20, 2021 the WPA met with Council and the Taskforce head Phil Watson to permit the Association to discuss the option of residents submitting a DA and project managing the coastal protection works themselves rather than a Council project managed solution.
Which is exactly what happened at Collaroy and how the wall was able to be built by circumventing normal community consultation processes.
It's a no brainer from the property owners’ perspective. Sure you might lose the beach but you get to keep multi-million dollar coastal property by chucking a few hundred grand into the kitty to build a wall.
Other beach users and surfers concerned about beach loss and the effects of denuded sand flow on nearby breaks might not feel so cheery about the new backroom deals between Councils and property owners.
This problem is not going to go away, and increasingly looks like beachside properties will be protected at all costs, reversing policies of planned retreat that coastal councils enacted in the 80's.
In the future, according to engineering firm Worley-Parsons, there are more likely to be conflicts between existing protective works and beach amenity (eg due to narrowing beach width).
Property rights are a powerful force, no moreso than when it comes to protecting the insanely expensive coastal real estate which has become an increasingly scarce and precious commodity on the East Coast.
When property rights conflict with the rights of access to the commons (beach, surf) it's usually property rights that win out, as has been seen at Belongil for the last 20 years. This is despite regulatory guidance from Councils, including erosion lines and policies of planned retreat.
Those property rights will be even more zealously enforced considering the crazy increases in coastal real estate prices- up by 20% in Byron Bay in one year alone. No one gives up that kind of money without a fight to the bitter end, using the best lawyers money can buy.
Byron Shire Council, one of the earlier adoptees of a policy of planned retreat, has now released a short list of options, for dealing with the carpark near the Wreck and its associated mini-groynes. TC Seth created large waves that washed over this structure and into the carpark, as well as severely eroding the Main Beach and Belongil areas either side.
In this case, to be fair, there is already hard structure on the beach, which dissects serious erosion zones both upstream and downstream. Planned retreat looks unlikely to happen here either. The town's infrastructure is expected to be fortified by renewal of the seawall and groynes already there.
Reading through reports prepared by BlueCoast Consulting Engineers, surf amenity makes an appearance. Detailed bathymetric and wave climate modelling is included as part of the protection scheme. That at least gives some hope in the future that where hard structures are placed in the surf zone surf quality for the adjacent breaks is not impacted.
With another La Nina year upon us and the East Coast likely to be under further erosive attack from swells from tropical sources or ECL's, coastal erosion and how best to deal with it is going to be a top ticket item again this year. Potentially a Federal election issue.
Whether surfers, both local and national can organise enough to get their concerns raised to an equal footing with property owners remains an open question. The precedent set so far, suggests not without a helluva fight.