The foreshore is disappearing faster than my wages, with twenty metres of beach front lost in the past decade. This loss of sand has accelerated in the past couple years due to storms and other elements, with more than three metres of beach front lost in the past 18 months. Old Bar is part of an erosion problem facing many parts of the east coast- line from Sydney to Byron Bay. Coastal towns and villages are working with their Councils and other agencies to save these major assets.

Old Bar is a seaside town near Taree. The town has already witnessed the demolition of two homes located at the southern end of Lewis Street due to erosion. These two homes were the subject of development applications to rebuild on the rear of their blocks; however, the development applications had to be fast tracked by Taree Council. The Council had to act quickly with demolition orders, as the rapid loss saw one of the homes with part of its structure hanging over the cliff face.

Another two neighbouring homes appear certain to head the same way, as they also succumb to the rapid erosion. The problem is highlighted at the site of one the demolished homes, which was originally on land that was 5,500 square metres in size and purchased in 2001. This property has pristine views of the ocean, and the original residence was located a healthy 27 metres from the back fence. The fast moving erosion problem has seen this distance vanish.

Lewis Street backs onto the eroding areas, and its residents are expressing major concerns. Experts predict the beach front street may have a five to ten year life span at the current rate of erosion.

The crisis has caused Old Bar residents to form an action group: Old Bar Beach Sand Replenishment Group Inc. under the Presidency of Elaine Pearce. The group is urging immediate work to protect the foreshore and dunes, to eliminate any further loss.

The group formed in late 2008 and has completed a Draft Management Plan, met local Federal Member Rob Oakeshott, Greater Taree City Council, and Worley Parsons, the consultants currently compiling a report on behalf of the Council as a Coastal Hazard Assessment.

“We have covered a lot of ground since we formed,” said Elaine Parsons. “Currently we have compiled our own solution and are applying for a Federal grant to head towards a permanent solution.”

The action group is advised by Tim Minty, a local geological engineer who has decades of experience studying and stopping erosion problems.

“If something is not done now, then the beach will be gone, and there is a risk the sea will enter Racecourse Creek,” said Minty. “The shore-line is now eighty metres closer to the dune.”

Minty has suggested a solution: building a series of groins (breakwalls) at right angles to the shore-line, which will capture the sand and severely slow the erosion. Minty believes that six to eight groins varying in length from 15 to 45 metres are necessary to overcome the problem. He has estimated the cost to be between $800,000-$900,000 – something, he says, that can easily be put into place.

“The system can be either an Elcorock (bags) or Tetra pods (interlocking) – both will be effective.”

Resident Mark Searles, a local surveyor, is also a major contributor to the solution plan. He has been surveying the shore-line regularly and reports that his records show five to six metres of the dunes/beach have been lost in the past two years. This is in contrast to the original predications in 1997 that a metre a year would be lost.

The Greater Taree City Council’s coastal management plan developed in 1992 is now under review, with a new coastal management line to be established citing a minimum distance for future developments.

With some affected residents heading to the legal fraternity to be advised about their rights of compensation, the disaster appears headed to the courts for a decision. Who is responsible? The Greater Taree City Council, or the various agencies of the Federal or New South Wales Governments for approving these developments?

Residents claim all three agencies were aware of the future losses of coast-line as far back as the mid 1990s and are legally responsible – a situation denied by all three bodies. Residents whose homes are now under threat are alarmed and annoyed at having to bear the cost of reports, after receiving written advice from Council for engineering assessments on their properties.

“We believe the Council should cover the costs of any reports,” said Elaine Parsons. “The owners of the affected properties see it as a dismissal of responsibilities by our bureaucrats.”

It may sound alarmist, but if the current rate of erosion continues, in 20 years we will see the shore-line decrease and the elimination of the caravan park, amenities around the reserve, the entirety of Lewis Street, Pacific Parade, part of Rose Street and the Old Bar Public School.

So it is evident that a solution has to be found soon.

In the early 1990s the Council recognised there was a problem and successfully built a groin-wall to divert Racecourse Creek, which at the time was eroding the fore-dunes in front of the reserve and houses located in Lewis Street. The re-direction of the creek created a build-up of sand located in the south. Since that action – which worked well – conditions have changed, with the barrier now only visible during storms.

During the last decade, the dunes south of Racecourse Creek at Old Bar have slowly changed along with the natural coastal system, which is now a residential area.

With the coastlines of New South Wales eroding, it is puzzling that there has been an absence of action from governments.

Our beaches are one of the lifebloods of our tourist industry, and if the erosion is allowed to go unchecked we will have reduced revenue and a reduced amount of venues for our growing population to enjoy.

Where does the responsibility stop? Does it rest with all levels of government, with owners of the properties or with the developers who applied and were granted permission to erect buildings?

If history repeats itself, it is evident they will all blame each other; however, the bottom line is that we must protect our coast-line and the current residential areas from further erosion.

Many blame climate change, while others say the change in currents and weather conditions are related to a cycle that happens every five decades. Whatever the reason, we simply cannot afford to procrastinate.

Old Bar is not unique with its problems. Laurieton, near Port Macquarie, is becoming a victim, and recently the foreshore of Sydney had a block of units under threat after it lost an enormous amount of sand, exposing the units’ foundations.

Protection of our coast-line has been on government agendas, as they have instigated many laws to protect marine life, vegetation etc. The Greater Taree City Council is awaiting a report on a Coastal Hazard Assessment from Worley Parsons – a group of consultants engaged to investigate and make recommendations about our coastline.

Director of Planning and Building, Graham Gardiner says: “We are aware and concerned about the Old Bar situation. Whatever recommendations are made by the Worley Parsons report, Council will discuss what the next steps will be. Council has fast tracked the demolition orders and pending development application/s of the affected residents.

“In the circumstances we have done everything possible and cannot do any more until we do an analysis of the Worley Parsons report due in March.”

Residents are working hard to stop the pending demise of their beachside village, and as a tight community they are united to gain a positive outcome.

The Old Bar village has just experienced its best ever holiday period and is fast becoming a desired venue for holiday makers – a situation that could possibly be lost if the beach front disappears.

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