By Tony Stickley
“I am in my home, the wall stands firm and I haven’t needed a snorkel yet.”
Hopes are high for a resolution to the Buffalo Beach seawall saga without needing to go to a full Environment Court hearing - with all the expense that would entail.
All sides are optimistic that they can come to an agreement that everyone can live with, on upgrading the wall which has protected properties along the beachfront for the past 20 years.
Last September, a specially-appointed Independent Hearings Commissioner granted resource consent for the Buffalo Beach Homeowners Association (BBHO) to upgrade the seawall that has protected their homes - not to mention the road behind (SH25), all the associated infrastructure and local reserve land as well.
However, the commissioner’s lengthy 137-page decision included numerous conditions which the BBHO have appealed to the Environment Court. These included a consent lasting only 20 years instead of the 35 years sought by the homeowners, and a requirement for them to pay a substantial bond to the council. To avoid a costly court process, where win or lose each side would have to pay their own costs, the court appointed a mediator to bring the parties together for negotiations.
Talks were held last week with both sides now saying they were optimistic that a compromise could be found.
A spokeswoman for Waikato Regional Counsel said in a statement on the state of negotiations:
“Mediation on 8 February was successful; however, there are some matters outstanding which relate to the bond, environmental mitigation programme, monitoring programme and duration of consent. All parties are committed to resolving these matters ahead of reporting back to the Environment Court by 17 March.”Homeowners’ chairman, Paul Dimock, who runs the Beachfront Resort on Buffalo Beach Road with his wife Kate, said he was limited in what he could say because of confidentiality around the negotiation process. “But needless to say that, optimistically, we think that we will get a result in the short term and there is a commitment to report back to the Environment Court by March 17,” said Paul, who has shouldered the lion’s share of the work relating to the seawall upgrade. Problems initially arose a couple of decades ago when the homeowners built the current wall to protect their properties from the ravages of the sea without obtaining the necessary council approval, though they had applied. Retrospective permission was received, but did not comply with the conditions imposed, which resulted in them having to apply for a new resource consent, the conditions of which are now the subject of appeal and the current negotiations. Irrespective of any failure to comply with the rules in the past, the homeowners say one thing is clear - the seawall has continued to protect their properties, while the tide has torn huge chunks of ground away from neighbouring properties, including Mercury Bay Boating Club which has had to be shifted several metres back to avoid being washed away into the ocean.
As homeowner, Wendy Walls put it during the current Cyclone Gabrielle: “I am in my home, the wall stands firm and I haven’t needed a snorkel yet.”
Paul said that many locals were supportive of their desire to protect their homes from the raging sea. People spoken to by the Informer have even said that the homeowners deserved medals for what they have done, not only to protect their own properties but also Buffalo Beach Road itself and all the associated infrastructure, as well as Thames-Coromandel District Council reserve land.
“The wall has stood the test of time, safeguarding their homes as well as the surrounding area, and the new wall will be even better, with a fully engineered design,” said Paul. “Ultimately, the council would have to end up building a wall to protect the road,” he said. “It would have been lovely if the councils were more supportive from the get-go, given the type of beneficiaries that are there - the road, the infrastructure and all of the obvious things.”
Paul agreed with the optimism expressed by WRC following last week’s round of negotiations. “I agree with their summation that it was a positive first hit-out, but the major big-ticket items are still on the table, such as the consent duration,” he said.
However, on the issue of the condition of homeowners having to pay a bond (in case the wall ever needed to be removed or repaired), Paul suggested that covenants on the 18 properties involved might negate the need for a bond to be paid to the council. So far, the seawall protection has cost the homeowners just shy of $2 million - just under $1 million for the initial wall with a similar amount for the upgrade, when legal costs and consent issues are taken into account.
“We want to get some reasonable conditions so that we can move on with the implementation phase, because everything delays the process,” said Paul. “There is a lot of work to be done before you can lift a rock. But there is some urgency around properties by the yacht club (MBBC) to rebuild the sea wall,” he said.
Caption: As this article goes to print, Cyclone Gabrielle bears down on Mercury Bay and the Coromandel Peninsula. Just a few days earlier, the protective wall, speedily built by the community to stop the deck of the boating club going into the sea, had to be removed under conditions imposed by the Waikato Regional Council - that the wall be removed as soon as the building was shifted back 40 metres.