‘Managed retreat’ advice years ago

Roger Handford

COLUMN

As a journalist who has lived and worked in Gisborne for 40 years, I well recall the times Wainui Beach has been swept bare down to the papa bedrock by heavy seas and storm surges.

I also attended the many meetings of the-then City Council, Catchment Board, various scientific experts and the local community to discuss the erosion problem.

I agree with the concerns raised by former catchment board engineer Dave Peacock.

The area has long been designated a coastal hazard zone. There are conditions on what can and cannot be done in such an area.

Years ago residents were advised of the eventual likelihood of having to move. The words managed retreat were used.

Along with the NZ Coastal Policy, the Resource Management Act restricts building and other activity such as erosion control work.

I see the council has rushed to install what it says are temporary measures to block the latest erosion and says it will look for a more permanent solution.

Other ratepayers may not agree that they should pick up the costs for those who decide to live in identified risk areas.

The choice of location and view is theirs — any protection work (if permitted under the RMA and district plan) should be at their cost.

In many parts of the world, people have decided to withdraw human influence in vulnerable environments, and let nature take its natural course.

Considering the long history of the erosion problem at Wainui, and what has happened in other places such as Matata, this council should have been more proactive in setting a timeline for action, including withdrawal. Much the same as timelines given to owners of earthquake-risk buildings.

The council should have pursued the removal of ugly and dangerous railway iron and lumps of concrete, and restored the beach to its natural state.

I am taken aback by councillor Dunn’s view of the erosion: “If the ocean needs more sand than what is on the beach, it will look for sand in the dunes”, and etcetera.

Sadly, views that the sand comes and goes in a simple, cyclic process are a gross oversimplification of a complex, dynamic and ever-changing system.

The biggest immediate threat to our coast, aside from tsunami, is what has just occurred — the dangerous combination of a one-two-three punch. Spring tides, a low pressure system off the coast and strong southerly weather are the ingredients.

The mix produces powerful swells above the norm — surges that smash rock aside, sweep sand away and break over dunes and riverbanks.

With global climate change and sea levels continuing to rise, the situation is only going to get worse.

Humans everywhere are going to have to consider unpopular and costly management decisions, including retreat and relocation.

As a journalist who has lived and worked in Gisborne for 40 years, I well recall the times Wainui Beach has been swept bare down to the papa bedrock by heavy seas and storm surges.

I also attended the many meetings of the-then City Council, Catchment Board, various scientific experts and the local community to discuss the erosion problem.

I agree with the concerns raised by former catchment board engineer Dave Peacock.

The area has long been designated a coastal hazard zone. There are conditions on what can and cannot be done in such an area.

Years ago residents were advised of the eventual likelihood of having to move. The words managed retreat were used.

Along with the NZ Coastal Policy, the Resource Management Act restricts building and other activity such as erosion control work.

I see the council has rushed to install what it says are temporary measures to block the latest erosion and says it will look for a more permanent solution.

Other ratepayers may not agree that they should pick up the costs for those who decide to live in identified risk areas.

The choice of location and view is theirs — any protection work (if permitted under the RMA and district plan) should be at their cost.

In many parts of the world, people have decided to withdraw human influence in vulnerable environments, and let nature take its natural course.

Considering the long history of the erosion problem at Wainui, and what has happened in other places such as Matata, this council should have been more proactive in setting a timeline for action, including withdrawal. Much the same as timelines given to owners of earthquake-risk buildings.

The council should have pursued the removal of ugly and dangerous railway iron and lumps of concrete, and restored the beach to its natural state.

I am taken aback by councillor Dunn’s view of the erosion: “If the ocean needs more sand than what is on the beach, it will look for sand in the dunes”, and etcetera.

Sadly, views that the sand comes and goes in a simple, cyclic process are a gross oversimplification of a complex, dynamic and ever-changing system.

The biggest immediate threat to our coast, aside from tsunami, is what has just occurred — the dangerous combination of a one-two-three punch. Spring tides, a low pressure system off the coast and strong southerly weather are the ingredients.

The mix produces powerful swells above the norm — surges that smash rock aside, sweep sand away and break over dunes and riverbanks.

With global climate change and sea levels continuing to rise, the situation is only going to get worse.

Humans everywhere are going to have to consider unpopular and costly management decisions, including retreat and relocation.

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