A voluntary contribution from Belongil landowners affected by beach erosion is the latest plan by Byron Council to help pay for the remaining amount needed for a rock wall that would cover the last stretch of private and public beachfront in the area.
The topic of ‘interim beach access stabilisation works’ again divided the Greens voting bloc at Council’s meeting on Thursday, with Cr Rose Wanchap siding with Crs Diane Woods, Sol Ibrahim, Alan Hunter and Chris Cubis to support funding the rock wall from an environmental levy.
But if the Belongil landowners come to the party, the estimated $155,000 from the levy may not be needed.
Cr Ibrahim told The Echo that after meeting all the landowners recently, they were open to negotiations and are looking at ways to maintain beach frontage (as rock walls are known to erode beach frontage).
While conceding it isn’t cheap, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘there are other beachfront areas all over the world with rock walls that have been engineered to also have beach frontage’.
He also challenged the argument that all Belongil landowners are required to have removable houses in case of a severe storm, as per a 1980s agreement with Council. ‘Some are not subject to the 1980s Council agreement because they bought before that agreement,’ he said.
Regardless, a foreshadowed motion will see Council wait for legal advice, which is due in a few weeks, and would be considered prior to tenders being called (Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter voted against).
It’s advice that mayor Simon Richardson says was recommended by a panel of experts in coastal management, who recently met with Council.
A staff recommendation that funds from an environmental levy be used to fund the project dominated much of the debate, with Crs Wanchap, Woods and Ibrahim claiming that that the geo-bags that are currently in place – and that have been largely washed away – constituted environmental pollution and a threat to sea life.
Cr Woods said that in all her years in Council, she had ‘never heard such hypocrisy’.
‘We are told these bags are falling apart and that the environment is being affected. [It comes down to that] some of us want rocks there, and some of us don’t. Every time we get a report that comes before us, it gets delayed… whatever tactics that can be used are put in place to stop it from happening.’
Meanwhile, Cr Ibrahim argued that the works are interim, ‘as rocks can be moved and relocated’.
In reply, Cr Richardson said the issue is ‘not about eco-worrying’.
‘If we truly care about the environment, we wouldn’t have walls there so the turtles and birds might have a beach that they could use.’
While admitting that the walls will happen, Cr Richardson said it was important ‘how it will happen and how to minimise any possible litigation’.
Of the recent meeting with coastal planning experts, Cr Richardson said one of the planners, Angus Gordon, told them either ‘to protect or withdraw’.
‘They all said legal clarity is vital,’ he said.
Cr Basil Cameron argued that without a coastal zone management plan (CZMP), which is in accordance with the Coastal Protection Act 1979, Council could be ‘open to failure’.
‘We need indemnity that the landowners won’t sue us if the works fail in years to come,’ he said. Council’s director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, told councillors that staff will meet with landowners next week. Executive manager of organisational support, Shannon McKelvey, added that any agreement with landowners ‘would only be with landowners, not the land’.