Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

August 11th 2009
Gone but not forgotten

Sand loss at Nelly Bay While casuarinas and banyans at Nelly Bay beach continue to be washed out by high tides and storms and swimmers negotiate the rocky beach, while Council and the State governments are seeking a means of dealing with the very difficult problem without creating problems elsewhere, and while owners of waterfront property keep an anxious eye on the disappearing foreshore ­– it is worth looking back and wondering if we (and particularly our ‘representatives’) have learnt from history. A decade ago I wrote, and Magnetic Times published, a story about sand movement in Nelly Bay.

I quote word-for-word from the article, which appeared in the 12–25 February 1999 issue of the paper. As I wrote the story, I was looking at a copy of a review of the Nelly Bay Harbour proposal (at is still was then) done by the Marine Modelling Unit (MMU) of the School of Engineering at James Cook University. The review had been commissioned by Environment Australia, the commonwealth agency that eventually gave the tick to the development going ahead. The review was also available to the State government (which also had to, and did, sign off on the proposal) and to TCC, a strong advocate of the development.

The article quoted the MMU review thus: “The marina has altered the pattern of beach sediment transport in Nelly Bay ... there is some evidence that sand has begun to build up along the southwestern edge of the main breakwater. Because waves that will move this sand toward the southwest away from the marina no longer exist, sand will probably continue to move toward the marina. This change in sediment movement characteristics may cause loss of sand on the beach towards the middle of Nelly Bay, several hundred metres southwest of the marina”.

A stroll along Nelly Bay will demonstrate just how accurate the review was.

The article continued to quote the review: “...sediment movement into [the passage between the main breakwater and the mainland] may partially or completely block movement of water in and out of the marina”. This, I noted in the article, would ‘create the need for maintenance dredging. The cost of this would, in all probability, be borne by ratepayers’.

Again, those who witness the now annual sand dredging/replacement exercise by the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads on Nelly Bay will attest to the accuracy of the review. Many will remember how assertively this aspect was refuted by the the then Townsville City Council and Queensland government – until such time as they had to start moving the sand.

I write this now not to prove that I was correct (I was, after all only reporting on publicly available documents prepared for decision-makers by experts), nor to express my anger that our representatives chose to ignore inconvenient truths provided at taxpayers expense to advise on an important decision.

Sign of the times

I write to remind decision-makers to respect the opinions of experts (MMU and the IPCC, for example) when it comes to making decisions about other waterfront developments. The Townsville Overseas Terminal and Radical Bay spring instantly to mind.

And, in the case of Nelly Bay, it is not as if the ‘economic analysis’ done for the project – which forecast strong demand and benefits to the community, but which was described in court by experts as ‘useless’ – was anywhere close to the mark.

Story & photos: Wendy Tubman

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

Gone but not forgotten
August 11th 2009
Following the notice in MagneticTimes recently about the proposed 'sand replenishment' works at the Constitution Bridge and along Nelly Bay beach, I took the liberty of phoning the number given and reached John Plaza at Queensland Transport in Townsville. I basically asked him if there was a plan for the future or were they just doing what they always do?
He told me that recently (a couple of weeks ago I gathered) a number of people met under the auspices of Townsville City Council to begin the preparation of a Shoaling Erosion Management Plan for two locations: Rowes Bay in the City and Nelly Bay on the Island. He said that a consultant, Coastal Engineering Solutions P/L - principal Paul O'Brien, has been contracted to advise on the creation of a management plan for each location during the next twenty weeks - ie. more or less by the end of this year.
I'm not sure how the membership of the "group" was decided or how the consultant was chosen but apparently the State Government (Q.Transport?) is paying half the cost of the consultancy.
John Plaza said that the membership of the group, which I think includes himself is:
Adam King (TCC) - Co-Ordinator
Peter Gibson (EPA - possibly now known as DERM)
Phil Koloi (GBRMPA)
Cameron Talbot (DPI)
Jaimen Brazzale (Port of Townsville)
I gather that a review of the relevant literature, various bathymetric and other measurements and some sort of community consultation (whatever that might mean) is proposed within the ambit of the consultancy.
August 13th 2009
Dear Editor,
We are all familiar with the concept of 'spin' - political spin, media spin, financial advisor spin - a scruffy business to gain the upper hand, pass the buck, avoid responsibility or line reputational or financial pockets at the expense of others. To varying degrees we know what it is because we've watched it happen, maybe done it ourselves or we will if we want/need to.
Apropos the rising manifestation of spin, I draw your attention back to the foreshore in Nelly Bay after a visit there this morning (Friday, 14th Aug) to view the progress in the "sand replenishment" project. Replenishment is a gorgeous word - sounds all motherhood and organic lamb roast - but it doesn't fit at all with what is happening down at the Constitution Bridge. If anyone believes that this project is going to replenish ('fill up again') the beach or foreshore then they are sadly affected by spin.
Rather than listening to or reading misleading explanations I invite ordinary commonsense Island residents to go down the front there and make up your own minds about what is going on. The only reason the Queensland Government is removing sand from under the bridge is because they are required by law, under the Australian Constitution, to keep the 'island' breakwater separated from the land. Simply put, at Mean Low Water, there must be at least ten metres wide of sea formed in the gap between the island and the land - under the bridge. When it is less than that (as it has been for months and will be again in a few weeks) the GBRMPA, acting as inspector for the Commonwealth Government, notifies the Queensland Government that its constitutional obligations are not being met and it must re-create the separation. This is why I call it the Constitution Bridge. The actual bridge serves no other purpose than to separate the breakwater island from the land. It's not about hydrodynamics or flushing of the harbour basin or relieving flood flows in Gustav Creek. It simply makes possible a clever legal arrangement to solve a 1980s curly developer's problem. Taxpayers and ratepayers pick up the tab - and Nelly Bay beach and foreshore is locked into a permanent erosion cycle.
And still we have to suck this bullshit government spin.
August 17th 2009
Excellent post Chasmac I totally agree with you.
Warren Cross
February 7th 2010
We have been coming to Maggie for 13 years and have property at Picnic. When I saw the upmarket industrial estate(called Magnetic Harbour) for the first time, I just simply cried. The massive drop off in backpacker numbers, reflects the destruction of a wonderful nature vibe. A development in Radical, will be the straw to break the camels back. Maybe humpty dumpty will not be put back together again. A complete and unadultered tragedy.

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