Orewa’s controversial seawall appeal came before the Environment Court this month, with the parties close to an agreement on a revised design for the structure.
The case pits separate divisions of Auckland Council against each other as appellant and respondent – a process that has so far cost ratepayers close to $1 million (HM September 19, 2018).
During mediation, the wall has been significantly redesigned. The changes include reducing the footprint of the structure on the sand and adding two new access points. Sections that were loose rock are now grouted into a solid wall. A 600mm ‘upstand’ has been removed. Dense planting has been added on the seaward side as a health and safety feature, to reduce falls. The foundations are deeper, and the wall is expected to take longer and be more costly to build than the original proposal. The transfer of sand from the southern end of the beach to the north, which was always to continue (with, or without, a wall) could increase substantially. This is because wave action against a solid structure has more impact than against loose rock. Currently around 500-1000 cubic metres of sand is transferred each time. If the wall design now before the court is built, Council expects that around 10,000 cubic metres will need to be transferred initially, and 5000 each time thereafter. Transferring the sand could mean closing the beach for 1-2 weeks.
Concerns for those in opposition include the fact that this new design could be granted consent by the court without being put before the public, although the original proposition was publicly notified.
The original proposal to build a seawall on Orewa Beach, between Kohu Street and Marine View, was turned down by independent commissioners who said that it would generate adverse effects on coastal processes, public access and natural character.
Council appealed the decision, which led to a drawn out legal process that began in December 2017 and culminated in the Environment Court appeal hearing before Judge David Kirkpatrick that took place May 6-10.
In her opening submissions, lawyer for the appellant, Janette Campbell, said that there is a high level of agreement on the revised proposal – four of the 13 respondents are still opposed to resource consent being granted for the seawall.
Lawyer for the respondent, Diana Hartley, said that coastal experts agree that the revised proposal is a significant improvement. However, she said the experts also agree that it will not provide a sustainable, long-term solution.
Coastal experts also remain at odds over whether a hard structure is needed now, or in 10-20 years; whether a different combination of hard and soft responses would be better; and whether or not the wall should be moved further landward.
One of the respondents who is still opposed to consent being granted is Greg Shaw, an engineer who has lived on Orewa Beach for more than 30 years. He considers that the new, increased volume of sand transfer alone would be sufficient to combat erosion on this part of the beach for the next 10 years or more, which, he says, would give Council and the community time to work on solutions for the beach as a whole.
The Environment Court hearing ended on May 10. Closing submissions are to be filed in the coming month. Once those are in, the court aims to issue its decision with three months.