Thursday, 26 November 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

An exceptionally complex situation

In The Informer of 14 July, we reported on the erosion of Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach in front of the clubhouse of the Mercury Bay Boating Club. The drop in height between the beach and what is left of the dunes in front of the clubhouse is approximately 2m. The front deck of the clubhouse is at the moment no further than 6m from the beach.

The erosion makes it impossible for the junior members and sailing coaches of the boating club to launch their boats from the beach in front of the clubhouse. Instead, they have to drag the boats 500m to the north to launch from the Macrocarpa Reserve. 

A quick survey of Buffalo Beach on Saturday last week revealed that significant erosion isn’t only occurring from the rock wall protecting privately owned properties at the northern end of the beach to approximately halfway along the Taputapuātea Spit (including two privately-owned properties between the rock wall and the Thames-Coromandel District Council Reserve on which the clubhouse of the Boating Club is situated), but also from the rock wall protecting the Buffalo Memorial and Buffalo Beach toilets to approximately halfway along Buffalo Beach Reserve. The ocean’s relentless attack on the shoreline is clear for all to see.

On Wednesday last week, a group of concerned Whitianga residents met with Councillor Denis Tegg, the Thames-Coromandel representative on Waikato Regional Council, and Councillors Murray McLean and Tony Fox, the Mercury Bay Ward representatives on Thames-Coromandel District Council, to discuss what can be done to prevent further erosion occurring. It became obvious during the meeting that it’s an extraordinary complex situation.

Apart from participating in organised dune planting events, members of the general public’s hands are tied. Local authorities and the owners of private property have to apply for resource consent to undertake any shoreline protection work, apart from emergency powers available to local authorities under the Resource Management Act where assets are at risk. One of the most recent examples where such powers were exercised on the Coromandel Peninsula was when TCDC placed rocks at the eastern end of the beach at Flaxmill Bay to prevent Purangi Road from being eroded away.

Resource consent has to be obtained retrospectively for any emergency works that were done. If consent isn’t obtained, the emergency works have to be removed.

WRC and TCDC are the joint consenting authorities for all shoreline protection work on the Coromandel. Mr Tegg pointed out on Wednesday that the granting of consent isn’t a political decision. Depending on the circumstances, it’s done by council staff, independent commissioners or the Environment Court, and has to meet all legal requirements as set out in the Resource Management Act and other relevant statutory documents, including the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.

The question now is this, is the erosion in front of the clubhouse of the Mercury Bay Boating Club, or anywhere else along Buffalo Beach for that matter, an emergency and should TCDC take urgent steps to limit or stop the erosion?

To complicate the situation even further is the fact that the Boating Club agreed with TCDC at the time the clubhouse was constructed in 1994 to move the clubhouse should erosion of the beach make it necessary. The clubhouse is constructed in such a way that removal is possible.

“Should we literally draw a line and say when the erosion gets to the line it’s an emergency and we have to do something,” Mr Fox asked on Wednesday. Because the Boating Club clubhouse can be moved before it was at risk, Mr Tegg responded by asking would that actually constitute an emergency.

There also was discussion on the options available to the owners of the two properties between the council reserve on which the clubhouse of the Boating Club is situated and the rock wall at the northern end of Buffalo Beach. Mr McLean and Mr Fox were in agreement that it’s not TCDC’s responsibility to protect privately owned property. However, on enquiry from The Informer after the meeting, TCDC confirmed that the Shoreline Management Plans that are in the process of being developed for the whole of the Coromandel coastline will “…look strategically at what is best for the community in regards to managing risk associated with coastal hazards. This takes both a short- and long-term view and will include private and public property…”

A recommendation from the Shoreline Management Plans process may be that the building of “hard” structures (eg rock walls, sandbag walls or backstop walls) in front of the Mercury Bay Boating Club clubhouse, or indeed along the entire length of Buffalo Beach, are the best solution for the erosion that is occurring. Groynes may even be thrown into the mix. Or the recommendation may be that nothing should be done. Let nature take its course and retreat in a managed way. That will involve moving the Boating Club clubhouse.

However, adoption of the Shoreline Management Plans is expected between January and March 2022. That is a long way off. Any “hard” structures to be built under the plans will also be subject to resource consent being obtained. That can add many months, if not years, to the timeframes.

In addition, Mr McLean pointed out on Wednesday that even if the Shoreline Management Plans recommend the building of hard structures, it may still not happen. “Buffalo Beach isn’t the only erosion hotspot on the Peninsula,” he said. “And TCDC has limited funds. A backstop wall and groynes may be the best solution for Buffalo Beach, but it won’t happen if we need to spend what we have available somewhere else.”

TCDC says they are looking at how to address the erosion at the Mercury Bay Boating Club in the meantime. That may involve sand push-ups and more dune plantings. Those who attended the meeting on Wednesday were unanimous in their view that sand push-ups are not of much value and everyone was disappointed that previous dune plantings have all washed asway. “A lot of time and money for absolutely no result,” one of the concerned Whitianga residents commented.

With no certainty that the erosion in front of the clubhouse of the Mercury Bay Boating Club will ever become an emergency, with any final plan on what to do at least a year and a half away and the genuine possibility that there may not be money to do anything, all while the ocean is relentlessly marching on, it’s hard to see a more complex situation.

Caption - The erosion of Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach in front of the clubhouse of the Mercury Bay Boating Club. The Pohutukawa in the photo is at real risk of toppling onto the beach.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.