Residents fear for properties after bid for coastal rockwall rejected
New Zealand - Residents in a small Golden Bay settlement fear their properties are one big storm away from being swallowed by the sea after their bid to build a seawall on public land was rejected.
Pakawau Residents Association chairman Laurie Jarrett said residents were now investigating an alternative option for their own properties to prevent further erosion.
The group would not be appealing the decision due to it being both "hugely expensive" and "stressful". Residents and were instead investigating the "only option left" which was sheet piling each affected property.
"Rocks are the best, that's why we were advised by our engineer to use them but we can't so the next best thing is sheet piling because our main consideration is to protect those homes."
Sheet piling involved driving interlocking sheets of steel into the ground to prevent further erosion.
The finer details and costs were yet to be worked out and Jarrett said it was likely it would be slightly cheaper than a rock wall, but "not nearly" as effective. It remained a "very real possibility" that a big storm could expose the sheet piles.
"But we've just got to rule a line under it, it will only make us ill if we keep pursuing this to no end."
Last year, the association applied to the Tasman District Council (TDC) for a consent to construct a 345-metre rock revetment on esplanade reserve land and the coastal marine area in front of their properties.
The application was denied last week, with hearing commissioner Sharon McGarry citing it was likely to cause "significant" adverse effects on coastal processes, natural character, visual amenity and landscape values.
The decision followed a public hearing in March, in which an independent commissioner heard evidence from the residents and their experts for the proposal.
Jarrett said the residents association was formed six years ago at the suggestion of former TDC chief executive Lindsay McKenzie and it later signed a memorandum of understanding with the council.
He said the association believed TDC passed a remit saying it would assist the people of Pakawau to build a stone wall, partly on esplanade reserve and felt the council hadn't upheld its side of the deal.
Jarrett said the association had spent $40,000 to engage an engineer, planner and legal counsel as part of the resource consent process.
"We feel we have been dumped on, really. The sad part is that we trusted council to honour their part of the deal and it just hasn't happened."
Golden Bay ward councillors told a Tasman District Council meeting on Thursday they were disappointed with the rejection of the seawall.
Sue Brown said the community was "absolutely stunned" by the decision. Paul Sangster said Pakawau residents had gone through a "massive amount of stress" over protecting their properties and the resource consent process had also been a large expense.
Tasman District Council environment and planning manager Dennis Bush-King said council had a deal with the applicants where the council would fund the regulatory process if the consent bid failed and only attribute costs to the applicants if they won.
"We agreed to this process as sort of a test case. The works were to take place on council reserve and the property owners were prepared to meet the capital costs of constructing the works to protect their properties."
Bush-King said it was an important case, involving the growing issue of how coastal erosion affected private property.
"It is a long held position that ratepayer funds cannot be used to protect private interests but in this case we had an agreement with the landowners over funding.
"The hearing process has properly tested the impact of the proposed structures over the medium and long term on the coastal area, the sustainability of the option presented, and its impact on other private and public property."
He said the applicants had the right to appeal the decision. It did not negate any other actions available to mitigate the effects of erosion.
"What is clear though is that the solution promoted by the applicants is not the one supported by science, the law, or experience. However, it equally does not mean the council is walking away from the issue and we will continue to work with the residents to find a sustainable solution."
While Jarrett's property was not directly affected by the coastal erosion, he had lived in the small beachside town for 62 years and seen the devastation that countless storms had wreaked along the coastline.
Some residents were left with an erosion scarp less than two metres from their property boundary.
According to the TDC capital valuation, Jarrett said the 18 affected properties had a combined value of $8 million.
"You are looking at $300,000 to protect $8m. That is a very good, positive cost-benefit ratio when you look at it."
Of the 18 properties, six belonged to permanent residents, 10 were holiday homes, one was council road reserve and the other was an empty section.
"Some of them you talk to them and they break down, they are absolutely gutted, they have had enough."
The council received 388 public submissions in support of the application, nine opposing it and five that were neutral.
Some opponents were concerned about the detrimental effects seawalls have on the coastline and natural habitat, saying the council should look more seriously into longer-term solutions to help manage the affects of climate change and coastal erosion.
Several Pakawau residents gave evidence at the public hearing in March.
One of the affected landowners, Dame Suzie Moncrieff, said she considered the sand push ups were ineffective and ecologically damaging.
She said the seven years of dealing with the council to reach a satisfactory solution had been stressful and frustrating, causing unacceptable anxiety and health problems.
Another resident, Lois Benjamin said it was frustrating to watch the "ever encroaching beachfront erosion" threatening her home and security when it could be so easily fixed.
"In many locations around the lovely Golden Bay, erosion is rife but any council administered public land is immediately protected with rock armour as the situation demands...so why can't Pakawau Beach receive the same treatment?"