March 4th 2010
Juniper puts a toe in the water
In 2002, not long after Juniper Development Group purchased its land at Radical Bay, they commissioned Coastal Engineering Solutions (CES) to, in effect, determine what distance from the ocean would be safe to place what is now to be a, 24 residential block, gated community. This distance would be the buffer zone, in official terms, the ‘erosion prone area’. But, since examining documents Juniper have recently made public, Magnetic Times has found that the width of this vital safety area has been reduced by 35 metres and that the seaward line from which it is measured now appears to be significantly further out to sea than Juniper's own consultants recommended.
Recent storms, combined with king tides which overtopped the banks of the foredune a month ago, set us to look more closely at the most recent planning for Radical Bay using documents provided by Juniper to Townsville City Council and state government agencies.
One document, a 2009 “Coastal Hazards Report”, commissioned by Juniper from CES, notes, “The provision of a foreshore buffer zone is based on the philosophy that the natural processes continually shaping shorelines should be accommodated rather than prevented,” and that, “The most fundamental means of accommodating these processes is to avoid locating developments within dynamic foreshore areas.”
Locals who have witnessed what happened at Horseshoe Bay recently (see here) will, no doubt, have an excellent grasp of what a “dynamic foreshore area” is.
The report continues, “In 2002 Juniper commissioned Coastal Engineering Solutions to investigate coastal hazards and the natural processes contributing to erosion risk along the Radical Bay foreshore – and to determine the adequacy or otherwise of the nominated Erosion Prone Area width".
The 2002 report titled, “Proposed Development at Radical Bay – Erosion Prone Area,” outlines a formula approach for determining these widths. One important figure to be factored in was a possible 30cm (plus or minus 20cm) rise in sea levels by 2050.
While Magnetic Times acknowledges that the formula used for this calculation is in accordance with the current technical requirements of the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). It was however surprising to learn that, after its study of Radical Bay and application of the formula, CES were able to convince the Queensland Government's coastal engineers from the Beach Protection Authority (BPA - now part of DERM) that the erosion prone area could be reduced from 95 metres to just 60 metres. The width was subsequently amended by government based on this report.
A BPA map, drawn originally in 1984, indicates the erosion prone areas for the Townsville and Magnetic Island region. It is a fascinating document in itself. On it we see all of Magnetic's beaches and bays assessed and an erosion prone area width indicated. Just how far some of these might have shifted since would make an interesting study in itself. Horseshoe Bay, which faces a similar northerly direction to Radical, was assessed with a 95 metre erosion prone area width - as does most of Nelly Bay, while lowland areas along the foreshore of Bolger Bay have a whopping 400 metre width recorded.
The online version of the 1984 map (full map here) clearly indicates the amended 60 metre width for Radical Bay.
The 2002 CES report, upon which the 35 metre reduction in width was accepted and amended by the state government, however, makes very clear that the 60 metre setback should be measured from a location thats definition is critically important. It reads, “setback is measured from the toe of the foredune,” and, “The actual extent would be defined by reference to the surveyed position of the toe of the foredune.” That surveyed position now appears to have been completed in detail as a, "vegetation line" on Juniper's surveyors, Brazier and Motti's detailed maps
Astonishingly, the 8 year old CES report, in one overlay, clearly identifies encroachment by the 60 metre erosion zone into the development area, stating, “... it appears from an inspection of aerial photographs that the Erosion Prone Area extends approximately 17 metres into western-most Lot 130. At the eastern end of the site the landward limit of the Erosion Prone Area is approximately coincident with the seaward boundary of Lot 74.”
Fast forward to 2009 and, taking a close look at the detailed plans from Brazier and Motti, we see the landward boundary of the erosion prone area sweeping across behind the frontal dunes as a sparsely broken grey line which, on the western side, sits right on top of parts of the front boundaries of residential blocks 2 and 3. Measuring back from that line by 60 metres the, “toe of the foredune,” appears to sit on a line marked, “Bottom of bank” - a spot where whiting and flathead might be looking for dinner.
So what exactly is the “toe of the foredune”? Magnetic Times asked Juniper's surveyors, Townsville's Brazier and Motti. A spokesperson told us, “The bottom of bank is a toe – where it changes grade significantly”. Such a term is, we understand, acceptable parlance in surveyors' circles but Juniper's 2002 CES report gives a completely different definition.
After assessing several aerial photos of Radical Bay going back to 1941 CES is adamant. "...there is a very distinct seaward limit of vegetation along the foreshore which coincides with the toe of the foredune," (our italics). The consultants even go to the trouble of drawing a linear, “toe” line on a photograph looking directly along the edge of the vegetation on the foreshore and, while our copy is too poor to reproduce, the notes on the 1984 BPA map also defines the “toe” as, “the seaward limit of terrestrial vegetation”.
From a promotion shoot taken at Radical Bay by Magnetic Times in 2002 and a photo taken this week, CES's 2002 "toe" might itself now be seen as a generous starting line for Juniper's erosion prone area planning.
Our before photo was taken looking from the western end of the beach towards three girls in July 2002. When compared to this week's after shot at the same location, we see a tree behind the girls which was clearly growing behind the foreshore toe is now dead and its roots exposed. A stumped toe perhaps.
Before: Radical Bay promotion photo 2002 After: The background from above photo this week
Given the angle, we won't speculate just how far the toe may have moved and some plants nearby are struggling on. But no matter how strong their will to survive, none would last at all down the beach with the flathead at the Brazier and Motti “toe”. In fact the closest the vegetation gets to it on the survey plans provided by Juniper is about 15 metres.
In fairness, the Brazier and Motti spokesperson acknowledged that their “toe” definition, “was not an EPA (now part of DERM) definition,” but “our definition – a general definition”. He then suggested we contact Ms Debra Robinson, Juniper's Project Manager for Radical Bay.
So we asked Ms Robinson, if she could clarify where Juniper understands the, "toe of the foredune" to lie? And, if it is at the bottom of the bank, then why is this a different definition used to the one clearly indicated in the Coastal Engineering Solutions report upon which the erosion prone area was amended? She replied that, at this stage, “Juniper will not be making comment on this matter.”
The responses Juniper have provided to both TCC and DERM are still being considered but one might expect that if CES's erosion prone area width, on which the existing legislation hangs and as originally commissioned by Juniper, is given its due recognition then a considerable slice of the most valuable (closest to the water) part of development would be removed. One might wonder at what point Juniper would decide whether the project is still profitable.
Story, photos and graphics: George Hirst
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