For some, the stormy start to 2023 was a wake-up call. Nature is, indeed, powerful. The damage to our coastline and road network is a stark reminder of our need to marshal all our resources to reduce our vulnerability.
The issue surrounding coastal hazards has been the subject of scientific studies and publicly consulted policy development over the last 30 years. Our Council’s policy is not set in isolation - it has been developed considering national and regional policy as well as community aspirations.
Our Council has been ahead of the curve in recognising and addressing the risks our coastal communities face. Last year we adopted a three-year ground-breaking Shoreline Management Pathways project. This was a community-led project, that included experts and scientists analysing the latest data on sea-level rise. We mapped the entire 400km of our coastline and consulted with communities, iwi, stakeholders, and local businesses to identify risks of coastal erosion and flooding over the next century and beyond. Importantly, the project came up with 138 coastal adaptation pathways setting out actions to manage those risks. Have a look at your area here www.tcdc.govt/smp
There are no quick fixes, unfortunately. Some of the possible actions could include protection (using engineering options), but in some situations we may need to adopt different approaches. For many locations, building a sea wall may be an option that is considered; however, any engineered solution comes with a high price tag. The potential solutions facing Council could run into hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly well over a billion across our whole district. Our Councillors, myself as Mayor, and our communities need to work through who pays for that work, and whether that is covered just by local ratepayers, by our whole district, by long-term loans or with Government or third-party assistance.
With rising sea levels, hard structures often result in the loss of our recreational high tide beaches. A question I would ask is: are our communities ready and willing to accept that? These structures often create end effects too, exacerbating erosion at the end of the structures, which can then lead to negative impacts to surrounding land and homes. It is vital that our communities fully understand the costs and the potential consequences involved in these future decisions.
The challenge we are working on now is deciding the whole district’s priorities for action on managing all our coastal areas, and how this will be funded in a way that is fair to everyone.