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Published: 2003-11-06 00:00:00

An Environment Waikato Restricted Coastal Activity Committee has recommended that the Minister of Conservation grant a six-year consent for an existing seawall built partly in the coastal marine area to protect property at Buffalo Beach, Whitianga.

A land use consent has been granted for six years by Thames Coromandel District Council.

Buffalo Beach Homeowners Association applied to both councils for retrospective consents to occupy coastal space and maintain a 325 metre concrete block wall at Buffalo Beach. The applications attracted 14 submissions to the district council and nine to the Regional Council from the Department of Conservation and the community.

Coastal scientist Jim Dahm said beach nourishment at the site had the potential to provide a useful and cost effective, but interim means to manage coastal erosion. It would also lessen the adverse effects of the seawall on the beach.

DoC raised some concerns about the effectiveness of the seawall and its potential adverse effect on the environment. The key issues were the wall’s structural integrity, adequacy for its purpose and restriction of public access along the beach, particularly at high tide.

Submitter Meg Graeme said effects of rock seawalls included loss of the high tide beach, restricted public access, degraded natural character and amenity value and increased end wall erosion. While sympathising with the applicants’ situation, the greater community benefit must be considered, and it would be disastrous to start down the path of permitting hard engineering solutions to protect houses at the expense of Coromandel beaches, she said.

Thames-Coromandel District Council’s technical report recommended declining the land use application, saying there was conflict between the desires of private property owners to protect their properties and the requirement to maintain and enhance a highly used public beach.

Environment Waikato’s technical report outlined the need to consider providing public access on the beach at high tide and address the effects of end wall erosion. If the Committee recommended granting a coastal permit, a shorter term was appropriate to ensure property owners and agencies remained focussed on future and long-term management options.

Environment Waikato technical reviewer Richard Reinen-Hamill said there was “no magic bullet” solution to coastal erosion. The seawall would be overtopped and fail on occasion and there was already evidence of slumping. Beach nourishment would provide a better buffer, although finding suitable volumes of sand could pose problems.

Managed retreat was a complex option for established coastal subdivisions and would take time to implement, he said.

The Joint Committee said the homeowners were in an unenviable position. The development of coastal erosion strategies with both policy and funding mechanisms was vital for long-term decisions on the viability of homes threatened by coastal erosion. The current wall could only be considered as an interim measure and would not provide long-term protection.

Large scale beach nourishment might be the only successful means to manage the area until the current erosion trend reversed.

The District Council granted a land use consent to authorise the seawall for six years as a holding measure until further options could be investigated and implemented. Environment Waikato recommended granting a six year coastal permit.