The Coastal Communities Report was released by the Federal Govt. in November last year. The report identified that 711,000 addresses around Australia are vulnerable to increased sea level combined with storm or flooding. This represents the addresses of around 2,000,000 Australians. A high proportion of these addresses would be water front or near the coast and vulnerable to ocean inundation.
As sea level rises, coastal land will become inundated. At first, just by storm activity, then increasingly by tides as the average sea level rises. Winds bring waves and wave action (even small waves) can erode soft ground such as sands or sandy soils. As a result, beaches are expected to recede by at least 50 times the rise in sea level. So a rise of 300mm (which at current projections would occur in 25 years or so) would mean our beaches would move inland an average of 15m. Combine this with storm activity during which our beaches are heavily eroded and the result is that many beach front houses will be damaged or destroyed.
Sea level has already risen 200mm in the last 150 years and 30mm of that 200mm has occurred in the last 10 years. So we know the rise is rapidly speeding up. It will continue to rise whether we cut our emissions or not because of the changes we have already triggered in the atmosphere.
In May 2010, Gosford City Council issued letters to 9,000 properties in the Gosford area that would be affected by the 1% flood level or the 1% coastal storm surge level PLUS 0.9m. These properties will now carry a note on the 149 Certificate indicating that they are subject to potential affects of sea level rise of 0.9m by 2100. 8,400 properties around Lake Macquarie and a similar number in the Wyong area are in a similar position with impacts to occur with 0.9m of sea level rise.
The text added to the 149 certificate is:
“This land has been identified as being potentially affected by sea level rise of up to 0.9m by the year 2100 as adopted by Council at its meeting held on 1st December 2009 Min No. 2009/823. Council’s adopted sea level rise planning level of 0.9m is consistent with the NSW State Government’s Sea Level Rise Policy Statement. All applications to develop the land need to consider sea level rise but as council does not currently have relevant strategic plans with respect to management of sea level rise for the area, no specific sea level rise development controls apply to this land. Council is currently undertaking a program of studies that may affect future development on the land. Please refer to Council’s website, www.gosford.nsw.gov.au, for more information.”
On the morning of 9th Oct 2010 a meeting was held at Davistown RSL to discuss residents’ response to the listing of sea level rise risk on the 149 certificates for their properties (the 149(5)). It was convened by Pat Aiken and a group of others from the local area.
The discussion revolved around the damage to their property values by the listing and the lack of consultation by Council before the decision was made to include the note.
It was obvious there was a lot of anger and frustration in the room. Many told how neighbours had lost value on their homes – that the market had dropped. Some people told how they could not get anyone to even look at their house. Others told how their insurance premiums had risen from $1000 to as high as $7000.
And why? “Because of something that would not happen for decades” was one comment.
What is the government doing about this? The NSW Government has proposed a bill: the Coastal Protection Act, prepared by the Dept of Environment under Frank Sartor.
Under the Bill local Councils are responsible for preparing coastal protection plans and applying them. Landowners will be responsible for paying for the protection works under the plan and for maintaining the beach profile out to a depth of 10m. This could include sand nourishment outside the protection works if the beach sand was removed by a storm.
Also, the definition of “beach” now includes any erodable land that fronts onto tidal waters. So this can include land around tidal lakes, estuaries, rivers and lagoons – including Brisbane Water and our coastal lagoons and lakes.
This legistaltion does not seem to have been thought through properly. How can landowners be expected to sustain such costs under a rising sea level when their property has been marked out as threatened by sea level rise?
The Governments of the world are acting to anticipate sea level rise and the NSW Government has produced plans, policies and guidelines that are forcing local Councils to act. This is not going to go away quickly.
It is clear there must be some way in which we can continue to enjoy water front land and to buy and sell it while recognizing it has a limited life expectancy. Legislation should be introduced to allow for the legal framework required for this.
In the mean time, we must help those who have been caught holding this land. They cannot be expected to bear all the costs of planned retreat.
If a person looses their job, we provide the dole to tide them over till they find a new one. We need a similar “safety net” to help those caught out by sea level rise, those who lose their homes to a rising sea, to find other places to live.
Perhaps some economic mechanism to devalue their property over a long period of time (in line with the projected sea level rise) until the place is unable to be occupied.