BEHIND the 136 pages of City of Newcastle's draft long-term plan to save Stockton beach from worsening erosion is a bold assumption: that Deputy Premier John Barilaro will find a way to navigate through a ban on offshore sand dredging.
The long-awaited Stockton Coastal Management Program (CMP) puts forward offshore sand nourishment as the only viable solution to get enough sand back on Stockton beach.
The expectation that it will actually happen requires something from the community that is not expressed in the report - a leap of faith.
University of Newcastle's Dr Ian Taggart, a Stockton resident who has studied the erosion, said the CMP was the first time he'd seen council communicate a "real vision for the beach".
While Dr Taggart applauded council's push "for sand and lots of it", he said it was clear the report was not able to deliver that vision.
"A decision-maker looking at the report would not be able to allocate any funds to that request," he said.
"The main things they can allocate funds for is seawalls and trucking in sand. That is the only thing they can respond to."
As reported in the Newcastle Herald this week, the draft plan recommends spending $19 million over five years to address the erosion crisis.
The majority of money, more than $12 million, would be spent on building new seawalls, extending and maintaining the existing two rock walls and planning future seawalls.
Over the same time, $20,000 is set aside to work with Mr Barilaro's Stockton Erosion Taskforce that was set up in an attempt to identify a legal pathway to secure the required volume of sand from about two kilometres offshore.
Due to NSW's marine dredging ban, designed to lock out companies seeking construction sand for concrete, offshore sand nourishment is not costed in the CMP's proposed actions.
That means that even if the report, that identifies offshore sand nourishment as the best option to fix Stockton beach, is approved by the state government, it will not provide a pathway to mass sand nourishment.
He is expected to visit Stockton in coming weeks to update the community on investigations into possible offshore sand sources and announce terms of reference for his taskforce.
While offshore dredging is not technically illegal in NSW, it does require a mining lease because sand is considered a mineral.
No timeline has been set for the taskforce, but government insiders estimate it could take anywhere from two to seven years to overturn the ban and it might not be possible.
But when he visited Stockton in March, a confident Mr Barilaro said he did not expect the taskforce would drag on for years.
"We all know governments work in silos. We all know there are differing views and opinions within government," he said.
"My job is to bring that all together. This is not a taskforce that I want to see last for years - it's about immediate action and it's also about what is the medium to long-term plan."
It's estimated that between 1.8 million and 4.5 million cubic metres of sand is needed to renourish the beach from the breakwater to the Hunter Water land north of Corroba Oval.
While the southern end of Stockton beach has been stripped to a thin ribbon of sand, from Fern Bay north the beach is growing every year.
According to council's draft CMP, offshore sand nourishment is the best way to save the beach and protect homes, $2.5 million in public assets and community land.
It's estimated $21 million is needed for an initial mass offshore sand nourishment program that would deliver 2.4 million cubic metres of sand, followed by $12 million in maintenance every decade.
"Marine offshore mass nourishment has been identified as the only technically feasible and economically viable solution that meet City of Newcastle and the community's objectives for long-term sustainable management of beach amenity and coastal assets at Stockton ...," the report reads.
"If mass sand nourishment cannot be achieved, further protection structures would be required to protect public assets as coastal recession continues."
City of Newcastle's consultants, Bluecoast Engineers, estimate the beach is losing 112,000 cubic metres of sand each year.
Under the draft CMP, the only sand promised for the beach is 50,000 cubic metres to be trucked in and placed in front of the caravan park and Dalby Oval.
The $4 million project, to be carried out in two stages, would see the first half of sand placed on the beach in the first year, 2020-2021, and the remaining sand would be trucked in between years two and five.
According to the report, the grain size of sand that can be sourced from quarries is smaller than existing Stockton beach sand.
This means it is easier to move and City of Newcastle would have to put 2.5 times more on the beach to achieve the same outcome as the larger grain existing Stockton beach sand.
If the CMP is approved, in the first year $1 million would be spent building a seawall at Stone Street and Barrie Crescent, near the site of the old child-care centre that was demolished last year, $4.5 million spent maintaining the Mitchell Street rock wall and $400,000 on maintaining the surf club rock wall.
While the majority of initiatives in the draft CMP depend on securing grants from the NSW government, the rock wall maintenance programs would be funded by council.
A City of Newcastle spokeswoman said the height of the Mitchell Street rock wall, built in 1990, would increase by about a metre.
"The scope of works includes infilling with suitable rock, focusing on the seaward-facing slope profile and crest works to repair the corroded rock retaining baskets and increase height to account for predicted sea level rise and beach behaviour," she said.
"While no other structural work is required to the seawall, existing stormwater outlets will be repaired and incorporated within these works and new pedestrian access ways to the beach installed."
The second phase of the CMP, from year two to five, would see $10 million spent. This includes $3.75 million to extend the southern end of the Mitchell St rock wall and northern end of the surf club rock wall.
While an exact design has not been selected, the walls are likely to be secant piled walls, similar to retaining walls.
An additional $875,000 is allocated to build a seawall in front of the caravan park, $800,000 would be spent maintaining the existing Mitchell Street rock wall and $144,000 maintaining the surf club rock wall.
Stockton resident Lucas Gresham said he hoped Mr Barilaro could find a way forward with offshore dredging soon.
"We're being told they can't supply the amount of sand required to create the outcome we need," he said.
"The positives are they are working with us now and we are trying to get the sand outcome we want.
"But until the state government gives us approval for offshore dredging we've really been left in limbo."
According to the report, $490,000 is allocated to demolish and relocate the amenity block at the caravan park.
"The short-term impacts on the holiday park are likely to be large and could ultimately lead to the [temporary] closure of the holiday park," it states.
Council will spend $100,000 designing additional seawalls for the foreshore in case offshore sand nourishment is not approved and the erosion crisis deepens.
Additional, or stage two, seawalls would be built if the erosion hits "trigger points" or a hazard line and threatens assets and properties.
Council's consultants identified a significant lowering of the seabed due to the erosion, resulting in more powerful waves pounding Stockton's fragile shoreline.
"Without intervention in the form of additional sand, the ongoing sediment loss, beach profile lowering, and subsequent increase in wave energy, is predicted to continue," the report reads.
"This will cause accelerated erosion and result in significant and irreversible issues with the existing coastal protection structures as they become undermined and outflanked, hence the need for mass sand nourishment for the protection and amenity."
The Newcastle Herald reported last month, research by the University of Newcastle and Newcastle data specialist company Anditi, that wave energy off Stockton beach had intensified more than 100 times.
Due to time constraints, the report did not evaluate the feasibility of an artificial headland as suggested by the NSW Coastal Council.
This will be assessed in the broader Newcastle CMP, along with an investigation of sand movement from Stockton to Birubi, due for completion by the end of 2021.
- Visit www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au to view the report and leave feedback.
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