Coastal Residents Meet Politicians

At the public meeting held at Gosford RSL on Sat 30th Oct 2010, 150 people put their politicians on the spot. They were angry at the impact on their property of the encoding of the 149 certificates that says their property may be prone to impact from sea level rise.

Politicians present included: Laurie Maher (Gosford Mayor) Chris Holstein (Gosford Councillor) Chris Hartcher (State Member for Terrigal) Catherine Cusack (State Shadow Minister for Climate Change) and Deborah O’Neill (Federal Member for Robertson).

The debate revolved mostly around the impacts on residents of the encoding of the S149(5) certificates and the amendments passed last week to the Coastal Protection Act. Residents are reporting that their insurance premiums are sky-rocketing (one report of $7000 premium) and that their property cannot be sold with buyers shying away when they read the 149 certificate.

Two points about the legislation. It clearly states in the aims that the bill relates to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. It also mandates the encoding of the 149 certificate for land identified as being prone to the impacts of sea level rise. This amendment to the Coastal Protection act has been passed and awaits the Governor’s signature. It will become law on 1 Jan 2010.

It is increasingly clear that the amendments to the Coastal Protection Act will put the costs of coastal protection directly onto the property owners. Local Councils will have to carry out studies to establish what sort of protection works are to be allowed and then the landowners will be asked to pay for the works. In addition, if there is a beach profile outside the protection works, they will be asked to pay for beach nourishment to maintain the sand profile following any storm events. Clearly, this is well beyond the financial resources of any private residents.

It appears that the result will be that nothing will be done to protect these properties. Erosion will eventually destroy the sand dunes and demolish the houses. The owners will lose their property to the sea.

If no protection works are built, we may end up with a new beach profile at a higher level somewhat further inland and the houses gone. If protection works ARE constructed, we will likely end up with the water against the sea wall and no beach because residents will go bankrupt trying to pay for increasing sand nourishment costs as the seas rise.

What is the answer to this dilemma? First of all, if we want to maintain our beaches, we will have to organize to abandon the first rows of sand dunes and return them to the low shrub vegetation that naturally occurs. This will mean that people will inevitably lose their land. This would have to occur earlier than they would otherwise lose it to sea attack as the dunes must be stabilised prior to the storm attack.

Second, we must have some form of safety net to support those who will lose their land and have no finances to go somewhere else (eg. retired pensioners).

We are all responsible to those less fortunate than we are in our society. We must not neglect these people, they are the first line of defense against the hazards resulting from sea level rise.

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