April 5th 2011
TCC’s Radical decision raises questions over DERM's role
Rejecting Juniper's application for a 24 lot gated community development at Radical Bay recently, Townsville City Council has taken a major and principled stand which may well become a landmark indicator for the future of coastal development on the Queensland and Australian coast.
But while the councillors leading the charge, Vern Veitch and Magnetic Island’s Trevor Roberts, have done their best in protecting ratepayers from what they see as huge, climate change-related, future liabilities, DERM, who advised Council to allow the project to proceed, were in for a little flack from Cr Veitch.
Cr Veitch said, “Coastal erosion at Radical Bay has the potential to endanger lives and coastal infrastructure (including Council’s) and or property”
Council’s Planning and Environment Committee had previously recommended the project be rejected on the grounds that the proposed development conditions did not adequately deal with the issue of the access track.
But Cr Veitch, supported in Council by Magnetic Island Councillor Trevor Roberts, went further. He told Magnetic Times, “I’m quite concerned that the foredune at Radical has been compromised since Cyclone Yasi and it could be that the swale (depression behind the beach) could become the new beach,” he said.
“It’s quite realistic that we could see a 0.5 metre rise in sea levels in the next 50 years and the existing swale could become the new beach.”
In his motion, Cr Veitch cited TCC’s City Plan’s Desired Environmental Outcomes which seek to, “Ensure development is planned to reduce the risks of loss of life, injury, property damage resulting from landslip, flooding, bushfire, cyclones and other emergencies or disasters.”
Council’s rejection of the plan, has led to Juniper now saying they will appeal the decision in the Planning and Environment Court.
Cr Veitch said he thought DERM made an error. “DERM should have realised that all the data used (to assess the beach for possible future erosion) was from consultant’s reports from 2009.”
In January 2010 the beach at Radical was subject to a wind-driven king tide which washed in over the frontal dune.
“DERM’s response (advice to TCC) was well after that,” said Cr Veitch.
DERM’s Regional Services Manager, Mr Andrew Buckley, responded in writing, four days after being contacted, "DERM assessed the proposal to develop Radical Bay...(and) classified that the area was erosion-prone and made a requirement that no (our italics) development should go ahead there.”
No development at Radical Bay! This seemed very odd coming from the body which had issued a permit for the project. We asked DERM to explain and after six days deliberation we learned that, "DERM’s advice to TCC included a requirement that no development is to occur in the erosion prone area."
Sadly our efforts to try and provide taxpayers with a better understanding of DERM's perspective on this, likely, landmark decision, resulted in a statement of the obvious. Every beach has an erosion prone area where no development can occur.
DERM had however made an inspection on 12 February 2010, just after the beach-breaking king tides that year. But one wonders what they were doing. The king tide had clearly overtopped the frontal dune (see photo at top) and Magnetic Times’ own documentation shows a significant shift with the beach moving inland and significantly eroding the foredune vegetation.
DERM’s permit refers to an inspection represented by “DERM staff including vegetation management officers." There's no mention of any coastal geographers and this may explain why the impacts of the king tide didn't appear to matter when DERM decided where the crucial line from which the Erosion Prone Area was to be measured.
In 2002 the state government accepted a reduction in the width of the erosion prone area at Radical Bay from 95 metres to 60metres. This followed a report and recommendation from Juniper's expert consultants, Coastal Engineering Solutions (CES) who obligingly provided an image of exactly where, along the beach, this erosion prone area should be measured from. It's called the "toe of the foredune" (see below). By 2009 however it appears that the "toe" had taken a walk down the beach to where Junipers surveyors, Brazier Motti, called it the "toe of the frontal dune". It now lay near the bottom of the beach - or about another 15 metres closer to the water's edge.
CES's 2002 line showing the "toe of the foredune"
So, with nearly half of the old erosion prone area gone and in a time when rising sea levels and storms of greater intensity are predicted, and when the vegetation's edge had shifted inland, DERM's experts agreed to what looks like a compromise: a new line about midway between the two toes. They called it the "top of bank", a term which seems to only occur in references to rivers and creeks.
The "Top of bank" has been drawn in on the Brazier Motti map as a dark green line along the beach between the scalloped green vegetation line which might accurately depict the former "toe of foredune" line, and the faintly noted "Toe of frontal dune" further out to sea.
If DERM were to stick with the definition of what the “toe of the foredune” meant in 2002, when Juniper’s experts, CES, convinced the government into removing 35 metres of the buffer, and then compare it to what happened after the 2010 king tides we might have a very different outcome.
Following is a photograph taken by Magnetic Times when a public demonstration in 2002 was being staged on the beach. A small coconut tree (lower left centre) is well forward of all the others. That same tree in CES’s 2002 photo documentation (above) is directly crossed by the line that defines the “toe of the foredune”.
The following photo, taken from almost the same location shows how the beach looked after the king tides in 2010. The young coconut has gone as has the shrub beside it and in a further overlay we see, approximately how far the beach had moved. Why DERM would then agree to a “top of bank” starting line for the erosion prone area which, instead of responding to new conditions, goes further out to sea, is baffling.
Following is an overlay to show approximately how far the beach had moved between 2002 and 2010 and while the experts describe long term and short term erosion impacts the material revealed by CES in 2002 included mapping and aerial photos going back to World War II. Part of their argument for drawing the line at their “toe” and making the erosion prone area 60 metres wide was based on historical information showing the beach was relatively stable along this line for many years prior.
The red dotted line follows the 2002 CES drawn toe of the foredune while the green dotted line shows the post 2010 king tide edge of terrestrial vegetation which was the basis for the CES location of their toe.
But since the king tides of last year and the ravages of Cyclone Yasi, Radical has radically changed shape.
The red line approximates the position of the green dotted line above showing far greater incursions since Cyclone Yasi.
Cr Veitch is also concerned that, should the development occur, the cost to Council of fixing the erosion would be “substantial”.
“You can’t just get sand from anywhere and truck it into the beach. It’s more likely it would need to be barged in and that would be a very high cost to rate payers and we shouldn’t impose that.”
Cr Veitch went on to say, “I think this is going to be a trend right along the coast.” adding, “The Premier has said that a lot more thought needs to be put into planning and I think this is the sort of response likely to be seen.
“If Yasi had come in 8 hours earlier or 16 hours later or had been 50 kms closer there would have been a big difference across the whole council area.”
Story and hill vantage point imagery: George Hirst
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