Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

March 4th 2010
Juniper puts a toe in the water

Beyond the toe at Radical 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

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Juniper puts a toe in the water
Joan G
March 4th 2010
What an extraordinary situation - and what a great bit of investigative journalism. Thanks George. Can't wait until Juniper is at the stage where it feels it can make a comment! What were they thinking? Hope that this revelation will stop our representatives, the decision-makers at all levels of government, in their tracks. We are all so over such 'progress'.
Barbara Gibbs
March 4th 2010
Well, if Juniper's go ahead with their planned development with blinkers on, their buyers would have to also have blinkers on to purchase the blocks n'est pas? Maybe they should book into the next Climate Change Adaptation Post Grad unit at the University of the Sunshine Coast and learn why what they propose is foolish and misguided. Maybe they are confused with heads and toes? Considering some of their foolish decisions in the past, they may simply be lacking in literacy and numeracy skills(:
anne Cole
March 4th 2010
well they've really put their foot in it and now just need to toe the line and high step out of there....
Chris C
March 4th 2010
Excellent report George - let's hope thyis is the beginning of the end for the development of Radical
Andrew M
March 4th 2010
and maybe we should get the opinion of insurance companies when assessing these properties.
Don & Marjorie
March 5th 2010
This has all the hallmarks of the typical developer ambit claim which provides room for the developer to appear to be making concessions in the negotiation stage. To get the line brought back to that recommended by the consultant would be a hollow victory indeed.
Let's hope the Council and other authorities aren't conned by this tactic. The recent storm has highlighted the vulnerabity of the whole site and the potential for Council to be liable for huge compensation were it to approve development here. The developer would of course have moved on to leave others to cope with the fallout.
March 6th 2010
I hope that Townsville City Council and the Queensland State Govt agencies take a leaf out of Victoria's book - last week they knocked back a coastal development at Port Fairy - due to fears of damage/inundation from rising sea levels.
March 6th 2010
if you look closely up behind the now dead tree in the most recent photo without the three girls there are no palm tops where there used to be in the 2002 photo. lets hope if the development does not go ahead that the block (now stripped bare) is replanted
March 10th 2010
This is a very interesting situation - one that is determinedly set down in administrative processes for which there should be full records within the Government's system. It is interesting because on the face of it, following the gist of this report, the government agency (Beach Protection Authority) has changed the set backs on a whole swag of waterfront properties in the greater Townsville region, seemingly on the suggestion of a range of parties including developers, through various agents, on provisos that are not revealed.
Of particular interest is the 1984 map set (referred to in the text) which can be accessed with a click and can be magnified very simply by using the 'view' function on your computer. On the left side of the map is a heap of written detail which describes how the beach protection zone for each beach in the region is regulated. Down the bottom of the map is the title box which is used, in this particular map, to record each of the administrative actions that have taken place since 1984. They are updated in chronological order - which I have copied thus:
A. Special note added 24.4.89 (initials KJJ)
B. Special Note A approved at the Authority Meeting of 16.9.93 (no initials)
C. Special Note A deleted and replaced with Special Note B. Approved at Authority Meeting of 9.6.94 (TC?)
D. Shire boundary changed, new plan prepared with amendments adopted at BPA meeting of 30/11/95 (TC?)
E. Erosion Prone Area width altered at Radical Bay, notes modified as per amendment at BPA meeting March 7, meeting No.195 (9/7/03 PDRuffe?).

If Townsville Council and the Queensland Government are interested in transparent processes and unambiguous decision making it would be a good start to make public the relevant documents that account for these curiosities in Radical Bay.
steve a
March 14th 2010
This is an edited version of a letter I sent to Cr Trevor Roberts about this issue:

I am a regular visitor tot he island over the last 15 years, and now a rate payer as well.

It has always been a surprising thing to me and many of my friends who visit the island regularly that Radical Bay could offer freehold and leasehold land, when it is in the middle of a National Park and on an A Grade marine park beach front. In most locations in Australia this would be unthinkable. In Tasmania for example, the Tasmanian Government has an active program of buying up all these legacy leases in sensitive areas and grandfathering tenants out of them. In Victoria, there would be very few examples like Radical Bay with freehold land in the middle of a National Park, and none where any development would be permitted. These situations are always managed to remove development over time, not to approve it.

I appreciate that the developer has a right to purchase where the title system allows this. The developer however bears the risk of approvals, and in the case of Radical Bay, this would or should have been obvious as a very significant risk. The recent king tide event highlighted by Magnetic Times has emphasised the precarious nature of this as a development site. The consequences for TCC as the approving authority if there had been a cyclone on a king tide after the site had been developed in accordance with the developer’s proposal would be unattractive presumably.

Other factors which should bear on any approval would include:

• the impact on the National Park (and hence on the impression that visitors receive of the island when visiting its very best attractions) of the installation of any new service corridors to provide infrastructure to the development – the design documents I have seen describe a 30m wide service corridor running all the way to the Horseshoe Bay Road which will have a major impact on the visual amenity and on the environmental quality of the National Park. As you would know there is currently no power, water or sewerage infrastructure of any consequence, and the road infrastructure is not suitable for any signifcant increase in traffic.
• the impact on the public access to the beach at Radical Bay – one of the premier tourist attractions of the island- which is proposed to be changed to a very long walk (more than 1km according to scaled distance off concept plans) from the current situation where ready access is available. Many of the visitors and residents have young families, and also elderly grandparents, so a 1km walk along a creek is a significant barrier to access, and presumably one which is intended by the developer to maintain minimum public visitation.
• The impact on the Marine Park of this level of development – proximity to the beach being one which the Magnetic Times has highlighted – but also impact on vegetation, runoff from sewerage treatment systems, changes to stormwater drainage patterns and the like. The developers have already had a major impact on the remnant vegetation that was present, by clearing it all like a suburban subdivision. This act alone should alert Council to the attitude that is being brought to bear.

While it might be possible in the normal plodding way of bureaucratic approvals to work through all of these issues and come up with compromise outcomes that satisfy nobody, I respectfully suggest that the recent circumstances have offered the Council the opportunity to look at the big picture, and to finally resolve the Radical Bay conundrum once and for all, without selling out the core values of the island and its tourism life blood. Yes the developers rights must be respected, but these developers are experienced, and would have been well aware of the risks they had taken on at Radical Bay, particularly for the derisory price paid – this is always a clear signal to an experienced developer that the risks are unusually high.

I propose that the correct outcome would include the following clear requirements:
• No widening of the access road and no new service corridors
• Minimal upgrade of the road, or removal of the tarmac and rebuilding it to a National Park standard gravel tourist road
• Careful and conservative analysis of what areas of Radical Bay are actually safe to build on to withstand a cyclone plus king tide plus sea level rise scenario
• If this analysis reveals any suitable areas, then identify a suitable minimum lot size for any subdivision based on careful environmental subdivisions like Nobby Headland – as a working minimum I would suggest 1200 sqm, modified by local conditions such as existing rocks, trees (not many left!) stream banks and so on
• Any new housing to be autonomous –ie self sufficient in power generation (solar) water (rainwater not bores) and sewerage (composting toilets) –this avoids the need for large scale services infrastructure
• Design covenants to control the design of new houses and their visibility from the beach (refer Nobby Headland CMS for an example)
• Retention of proper public access to the beach –not a 1km walk down the back of a new development
• Comprehensive landscape plan to regenerate the landscape that befits a National Park and to stabilise the foredune if required
• Comprehensive environmental management plan that includes consideration of water pathways (both fresh and salt) through the site, fauna and flora survey and protection, integration of public walking track access to Balding Bay, Florence Bay and others, and so on.

I suspect a conservative analysis of Radical Bay would show that somewhere between zero and 7 residences is about the carrying capacity of the site given its other functions as National Park and Marine Park beach. Naturally this will differ from a developer’s proposal – but in this case the site is so special that the Council should be proactive and develop its own proposal as to a reasonable and sustainable development, rather than reacting to developers proposals. If the developer baulks at these requirements, the ultimate solution would be to persuade the State Government to grandfather the leases and titles to get rid of all development from an area that should never have been brought into the private titles system like this ie undo past mistakes

The mechanisms to achieve this result are in Councils hands if it wishes to exercise them.
March 14th 2010
Thanks Steve for an interesting contribution. Could I just correct a couple of factual errors so that the chronological order of events and the current state of affairs can provide a context for the situation that Radical Bay is in.
The various parcels of land (freehold and leasehold), including the old 36 acre scout lease in Florence Bay, pre-date the Magnetic Island National Park which was created in 1956. The scout lease (all except for about one hectare) and the surrounding Unallocated State Land (USL) which used to extend over to Radical and surround the freehold and leases there, was converted to National Park in the early 1990s..... all except for a three kilometre strip (which you call a road or track but which officially is not a road at all) which extends from the Forts car park to Radical Bay. Where that track comes into Radical Bay it used to extend between the freehold blocks right to the waterfront (an official 'road reserve' about 250m long). This part of the track (which was officially "road") was officially closed (in the 1990s I think) and the so-called 'pathway' around the eastern edge of the freehold blocks provided as a substitute. This action, which was perfectly legal, consolidated the five freehold blocks making the possibility of a 'gated' community more likely. All these actions took place at the behest of various owners before Junipers came into the picture in the early 2000s.
Since that time, four large leases which were part of the larger 'estate' have expired and been returned to the State as USL - but not before parts of them were approved for use as car parking in the Junipers Sea Temple resort project and cleared of vegetation. The Sea Temple project has received full approval at all levels of government (including the Commonwealth through its EPBC process) so Junipers can go ahead and build it if they wish. About the only place where Townsville Council can stick its nose is in the access road which is to be built (by Juniper) on USL which is fully controlled by the Queensland Government.
Now that Juniper wants to do something different, potentially (but not necessarily) all the cards must go back on the table. They will argue that their new proposal (subdivision for 24 house blocks) is much less impacting than the Sea Temple project which involves about 100 units in five storey blocks plus twelve luxury houses along the beachfront.
I would like to point out to you that any residential development at Radical Bay will require a road which will ultimately become the responsibility of Townsville Council. That is, this road must be 'all-weather', capable of dealing with heavy vehicles including buses and, say, readymix concrete trucks, and suitable for all seasons use by pedestrians, cyclists and (of course) idiots on mopeds. I can understand how a "National Park standard gravel tourist road" sounds all motherhood and pumpkin scones but really, if it's environmental sustainability you/we want, why have a road at all? Why not end the debate, purchase back the freehold, cancel the development and plan a world class pedestrian access starting at Arthur Bay (where the single private house is) and extending to Florence, Radical and Balding bays? Let's stop pretending that any car-based tourism experience will ever be sustainable on the northeast coast of Magnetic Island.
Anne XPicnic
March 18th 2010
as far as i am aware the nelly bay "idyllic units" are empty most of the time and buyers are few and far between, (what an ugly monstrosity now greets guests). You think council had learned from mistakes. Picnic Bay, a once vibrant tourist spot has basically shut down and died. With or without the science of Climate Change looming overhead, a king tide and minor edge of a category 1 cyclone and that beach is inundated. How would the added tourist numbers get to safety? Georges pic says it all, not to mention how much infrastructure would be needed to widen and strengthen the road in - often impassable by 4wd after big storms.
Last time i was there there were bits of pink tape on many many hundreds of trees along that road....
obviously someone who is allergic to pink needs to walk that road fairly often ;-)
Pat Coleman
March 18th 2010
Just wondering , If you were a buyer, can you still get insurance for storm surge etc in Qld. And in areas like this ?

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