IT'S a window into the future for Stockton beach if Deputy Premier John Barilaro fails to navigate a way through the NSW ban on offshore sand dredging.
Possible options for the erosion-crippled beach are contained in a publicly-funded consultant's report that City of Newcastle and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment fought for months to keep secret.
The September 2018 report, obtained by the Newcastle Herald under freedom of information laws, is the most recent major assessment of the erosion problem before offshore sand dredging was officially on the table as a possible solution to get enough sand back on the beach.
Known as the Stockton Coastal Management Synthesis Report, it outlines a series of possible solutions for the fragile coastline, minus mass sand nourishment.
The most drastic action proposed is building seawalls along the entire beach, about a two kilometre stretch, from Stockton breakwater to Corroba Oval.
Stockton surf club life member Jimmy Newton said one long line of seawalls with no sand was "our worst nightmare".
"We've all got our hopes resting on bringing sand back onto the beach, I don't even want to contemplate what will happen if that fails," he said.
"More rockwalls and no big injection of sand would be a disaster because the beach won't survive. People come to Stockton for it's beautiful beach."
Former environmental consultant Peter Jamieson, who spent years studying Stockton beach, has warned that without mass sand nourishment, seawalls would turn Stockton's coastline into an industrial port.
"It would look just like Queens Wharf, except it would have bigger waves crashing over the top of the rockwall," Mr Jamieson said. "It would be a hell of a shame for Stockton."
The final recommendation in the "confidential" report is a combination of building more seawalls to protect assets, sand pumping from north Stockton beach, a small headland and retreating from the sea by sacrificing public land, at the caravan park and near the War Memorial, to retain some beach.
Authored by consultants Royal HaskoningDHV - the report was commissioned to help council address concerns raised by the NSW Coastal Council during a review of the local government area's original Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) that was developed in 2016.
Yet despite the report being handed to the NSW government in draft and completed form, it was never shown to the public.
Some likely reasons it was withheld is the storm surrounding the impact rockwalls have had on the Stockton coastline and the strong community campaign for sand, not seawalls.
Newcastle University School of Engineering research associate Dr Ian Taggart said the rockwalls at Stockton have destroyed the beach in front of them.
"Wherever you put a rockwall, you can kiss the beach goodbye," he said. "The only way to maintain beach in front of rockwalls is putting sand there and limiting how fast it leaves. Unfortunately that has not been possible in Stockton."
Even council's most recent plan to deal with Stockton's coastline, which was approved by the NSW government in August, points to an unpopular conclusion for the beach without sand dredging.
"If mass sand nourishment cannot be achieved, further protection structures would be required to protect public assets as coastal recession continues," it states.
It's no revelation that increasingly governments, of all levels, have to be dragged kicking and screaming to release information the public deserves to have access to.
The Newcastle Herald sought access to the 2018 ratepayer-funded, 116-page report under the Government Information Public Access Act (GIPAA) in March.
At the time, council was rushing to complete its Coastal Management Plan (CMP), designed to look at long-term solutions for the beach under new legislation, and argued disclosure of the older report would "create confusion among the community".
The council and the NSW government also refused to reveal the name of the consultant who authored the 2018 report, claiming it contained "sensitive business and technical information".
In official responses that echoed each other and arrived on the same day, the council and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said releasing the 2018 report would "provide an unfair advantage" to the then unnamed consultant's competitors.
Unknown to the community, it was the same consultant, Royal HaskoningDHV, that was at the time putting the CMP together.
It took the Newcastle Herald six months to get access to the 2018 report after an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commission, which recommended the council and the state government make new decisions and release the report.
A council spokeswoman said the report was superseded because further detailed investigations were needed during the preparation of the 2018 Newcastle Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP), that was required to be certified by the NSW government to gain access to state funding for coastal projects.
"It was recognised that further detailed investigation, including current cost estimates, were required to develop a long-term strategy for Stockton that prioritised the community's desire for enhanced beach amenity in addition to the protection of public assets," she said.
After eventually releasing the 2018 report to the Newcastle Herald, it is now available on council's website.
A meeting of Mr Barilaro's taskforce, established to address the Stockton erosion crisis and investigate lifting a ban on offshore sand dredging, will be held on Monday.
The taskforce, which is chaired by Mr Barilaro who is on a month's mental health leave, brings together government agencies, council representatives and community members to look at ways of funding and sourcing sand for Stockton.
It was formed earlier this year following community frustration at the lack of coordination between government and council.
Mr Barilaro, who is resources minister, has directed his agency to identify possible offshore sand that would be suitable to replenish Stockton beach and $1million has been set aside to fund the process.
A spokeswoman for Mr Barilaro said the process "has already begun to have the required exploration licence granted".
"The surveying work to identify the best sources of sand off Stockton is scheduled to commence by late November," she said.
"That work will continue into the new year. We hope to have a preferred sand source identified by mid-February."
In May, the council released the first draft of its much-anticipated CMP, which is the latest report on Stockton beach.
It put forward offshore sand nourishment as the only viable solution to get enough sand back on the beach, but it did not provide a pathway to mass sand nourishment.
As reported in the Newcastle Herald, the plan recommends spending $19 million over five years to address the erosion.
The majority of money, more than $12 million, is expected to be spent on building new seawalls, extending and maintaining the existing two rockwalls and planning future seawalls.
Due to NSW's marine dredging ban, designed to lock out companies seeking construction sand for concrete, offshore sand nourishment could not be costed in the CMP's proposed actions.
Dr Taggart said he believed there was a general lack of awareness about what the CMP was capable of delivering.
"The council is relying on John Barilaro's taskforce to come through and it's not a simple process," he said. "It remains aspirational, so the community needs to maintain its campaign."
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 CMP reads.
Associate Professor Ron Boyd, of Newcastle University's School of Environmental and Life Sciences, said "the politics" to get offshore dredging approved was the best it had ever been due to Mr Barilaro's strong support.
Stockton Surf Life Saving Club president Callan Nickerson said the club was gearing up for a late start to its nippers' season on November 1, due to the pandemic and to allow council more time to improve beach access after it was cut in July due to erosion.
Last year the nippers competition was moved to Little beach in Newcastle Harbour, but it will return to Stockton beach this year.
"The beach looks okay at the moment, there is enough sand to run activities but of course worsening conditions are always one storm away," Mr Nickerson said.
Further up the beach, Hunter Water used heavy machinery this week north of Corroba Oval, near the old tip site, to remove more than 200 World War II tank traps exposed due to erosion.
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