INVESTIGATIONS are underway to relocate 300,000 cubic metres of high-quality river sand from Newcastle harbour to erosion-stricken Stockton beach.
The uncontaminated sand, initially located as part of investigation works for the proposed T4 coal loader project that was scrapped in 2018, is described in a Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation (HCCDC) report as "readily available" and "a virgin undisturbed deposit".
NSW government approval already exists to extract the sand via dredging and dump it at sea, but City of Newcastle will now investigate dumping it off Stockton.
It is part of a much larger sand deposit, estimated at 3.2 million cubic metres, in the south arm of Hunter River, near Tourle Street Bridge.
"The material is likely accessible by conventional and relatively low-cost plant and equipment, such as a medium sized backhoe dredge, with navigable depths suitable for transport by split hopper barge," the report reads.
"Suitable dredging plant and equipment is locally and readily available, and may be deployed in the coming year."
The deposit was identified through work done by Deputy Premier John Barilaro's Stockton Beach Taskforce, aimed at finding a solution to the crippling erosion problem.
The taskforce, that met on Monday, voted to approve a feasibility study to extract the sand and dump it off Stockton.
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.
City of Newcastle's consultants, Bluecoast Engineers, estimate the beach is losing 112,000 cubic metres of sand each year.
Experts agree the erosion is caused by the Newcastle harbour breakwaters and port deepening.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp has been urging the state government to allow sand dredged from the Hunter River for the construction of the proposed Newcastle Gas Terminal project to be redirected to Stockton beach.
Final approval for the $589 million project, proposed for the former T4 coal loader site, is expected by the end of the year.
The project, which has already been declared a state significant development, will require dredging of the Hunter River's south channel and it's estimated more than 3 million cubic metres of sand could be extracted.
Mr Crakanthorp said it would be a "big missed opportunity" if the sand source was not fully considered to help Stockton beach.
"I'm thrilled to see the progress made to use Hunter River sand to replenish Stockton beach and thank HCCDC for the work they have done to investigate this option," he said.
"While it may not be the ultimate solution, any measures to give this community some form of beach back are worth investigating."
Stockton Community Liaison Group chair Barbara Whitcher said it was "encouraging to hear through the taskforce the potential for relocating sand from the Hunter River to Stockton for short-term sand replenishment".
City of Newcastle will meet with the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation and Regional NSW in the coming weeks to explore the possibility of using the sand.
Meanwhile, a council spokesman said it planned to replace sandbags at the northern end of Stockton beach, near Barrie Crescent, with 'Kyowa Rock Bags', or rock filled bags.
He said the rock bags, that last for up to 15 years, and two buried seawalls - that were approved as part of the Stockton Coastal Management Plan (CMP) earlier this year - would reduce the need for ongoing emergency responses during storm events.
The rock bags will be placed in the same location as existing sandbags.
As part of the plan, City of Newcastle estimates it will save $2.45 million.
"The rock bags are a patented flexible mesh product used for erosion protection which are more durable and sturdier than traditional sandbags," the spokesman said.
"Initially, they will be assembled off site at the Ballast Ground in Stockton, before being installed at the Barrie Crescent section of beach.
"The bags will provide up to 15 years protection which allows for a window of time in which mass offshore sand nourishment can be achieved."
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes commended the progress made by Mr Barilaro's taskforce.
"It's encouraging that the taskforce is making headway on finding suitable sand sources for mass nourishment at Stockton beach and we're optimistic about the potential Hunter River south arm opportunity," she said.
City of Newcastle will complete three CMPs next year, including an updated Stockton CMP, a Newcastle Southern Beaches CMP taking into account the area between the southern Harbour Breakwater to Glenrock, and an Hunter Estuary CMP completed in partnership with Port Stephens and Maitland councils.
The revised Stockton CMP will take into account roughly three kilometres of coastline north of Meredith Street that was not included in the Stockton CMP 2020. It will also include additional studies.
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