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Not the climate but the culture

By Pauline Stewart

The climate is not the problem or at least one we can change immediately or anytime soon. The differences of opinion about if there is climate change, sea level rise, or what has caused it – natural attrition, carbon emissions or the sins of humans - will continue to bounce around.

But there is a problem with our culture. This is not to do with race, heritage, who owns the land or the sea or the high tide mark. It is the culture of powerlessness that pervades the ordinary dweller and reduces a big portion of society to inaction and grumbling, involved in a process of regulations and compliances, meetings submissions, all to do with changing something…..until there is an emergency. In a threatening emergency there is a resurgence of action, and application, teamwork and generosity of spirit and kind. It is contagious among whoever responds to contribute of themselves to the situation. It is cathartic and energising. But in the situation we have on the Coromandel peninsula and indeed, we need to address it, there is the overpowering realisation that this is déjà vu. We have seen it all before. This has happened before and there is sense that the people have the will and intelligence to meet the challenge. The issue who has the power to move discussion and compliance and limited resources into practical action and results before the next emergency. Some things we cannot prevent but to suppress energy and involvement and the ability to make a difference - that is the biggest danger we face as a people.

The role of local government is very important in this, every employee, ever elected member. We hav an opportunity in leadership and by example to change the culture.

It was a troubling yet inspiring sight - all the people working to save the Boating Club after last weeks storm. In two tides the front of the the mercury bay Boating Club lost six metres of its foreshore.

There was no time to call in DoC , not time to discuss compliance or whose fault or whose responsibility. The community responded as you can see in this photo, because the Boating Club and all the current and potential sailors who do and will benefit from the sport and love of sailing and the community events there, needed assistance to save their boating home. And they needed it NOW. Jonathan Kline, Commodore of the Boating Club reported, “We owe a big thank you to the community who came out to build the temporary defence.”says Jonathan. The Informer observed The waterways trucks and staff with supplies of sand and tools. Peter Abrhamsen of The waterways directed the filling and setting of the large white sand bags. Christiansen cartage had vehicles as well. All ages came - with tools and energy and if they couldn’t manage a shovel, they bought scones and other refreshments. Digger driver, Dave Balfour, faced his vehicle right into the waves as the tide was coming in and placed the concrete blocks and bags as the waves crashed over his machinery. We were more inspired than troubled at that point.

For the next three days, a mix of Boating Club members and volunteers worked to remove the front and side deck entirely and clear the underneath of the building ready for removal to a place further back on the same piece of land. This will be a short-term placement before it can be moved further back to a more permanent home. Geological and anthropological investigation needs to be done that will allow the building to be placed on the site envisioned.

Jonathan Kline said,”The task at hand is one of reinforcement with the relocation of the building being our primary effort right now. We need to reopen to the community for sailing, training, meetings, community events, funerals and weddings……We need to protect the building, as it is by no means out of danger. This is the second chapter of its life.”

The Boating Club have started a Give A Little page. They are sending this far and wide. They need to, as the financial undertaking is extensive. The occupation arrangement on the current piece of land agreed upon in the lease terms with Thames Coromandel District Council is one where the Boating Club owns the building but not the land. The Club leases the land from TCDC and any damages as a result of erosion are on The Boating Club.

Funding is no doubt a hurdle. But there is more to save than the building. There is the vision of a centre for sailing, teaching and racing. It is great home for sailing of a standard anywhere in the world. There is the erosion of the coastline in that whole section of Buffalo Beach which cannot be fixed without some hard options and fast tracked ones. What comprises a ‘permanent’ fix for an eroded and not so stable coastline for Whitianga (we all love the beach) lies before us. We need to think hard about this option. I think about Holland and what they have done to save their soil and their country which is forever vulnerable to the voracious appetite of the sea.

There is another hurdle alluded to by Jonathan Kline which will effect the Boating Club beyond funding. Jonathan acknowledged that Council( TCDC) is doing everything they can to assist, but thier intention to set the building in the proposed location will be halted for a while an archeological authority process is carried out. The intended location is a listed heritage area in terms of historic events that took place there and is termed sacred. “On the one hand, we have an urgent situation but we also need to respect the sanctity of the land and we recognise that,”says Jonathan.

The building. Could end up sitting half way between where it is now and where it needs to go.

Next to the Boating club just a little north are 21 properties , 19 of which have a sea wall in front of them. There are two properties whose tenacious hold on the foreshore looks very vulnerable. They don’t have a rock wall at this present time. One property dug a large hole a few years back filled it with rocks and it is these rocks settled between the roots of two pohutakawa trees that are bravely keeping the shoreline precariously in place. The issues facing the Boating Club and these homes are all connected.

In June 2000, in The Informer can be quoted regarding 21 Buffalo Beach properties. “A sea wall is now seen as the only way to protect their properties and affected owners have agreed to pay up to $20,000 per property to build it.”

“ Also quoted from this issue – “The residents have taken a chance by starting the wall before consent was granted,” Mr Pearks says.

At the time, Noel Hewlett, who was a Thames Coromandel District Councillor at the time, is quoted - “ It is the fundamental right of every individual to protect their property and I will fight for their rights…..” The records records say Mr Hewlett did fight for them but as late as December 22, we read in The Informer, that those same owners ..”will need to fork out $55,000 per property to upgrade the exisiting sea wall and due to previous non-compliance … , the owners will have to pay a substantial bond or provide other guarantees to Waikato regional council to ensure compliance in the future.”

Whatever we think, be it - “The owners should not have to do this, especially as their homes would not be there if that had NOT built the sea wall,” OR “ What right do people have to build where it is so vulnerable?” OR “What is the effective role of the local authority who gave permission for these homes to be built there in the first place? - there seems to be full agreement that the sea is not going to retreat any time soon and there is no room or possibility for a planting of spinifex and pingao in that area to encourage dune growth to prevent the sea wall collapse any time soon….. soon as in more damage to the coastline could be next week or next month. Everyone agrees that without emergency, physical protective action, as we saw this week at the Mercury Bay Boating Club, the loss of coastline is inevitable along with any property sitting on it.

The recent Commission conducted over the Buffalo Beach Sea Wall saga reported back recently – 137 pages. From the Commissioner’s report, it was said that ……”He took comfort from experts’ observations over the past 20 years, regarding how the existing seawall interacted with the coastal environment, including sea level rise and a number of large storms….., the sea wall will provide an enhanced level of protection for those land uses and activities that are landward of it from coastal erosion. This includes some portions of Council owned land and some lengths of public infrastructure.” It is not hard to see that in this situation, the wall at Bufflo beach or at leas the planned wall, is the last buffer zone between the ocean and Highway 25. The houses concerned are assisting more than their own homes with this expensive undertaking.

“Things have actually been worse than this,” says Peter Grant, a local historian and cartoonist. Peter provides detail of this with the photos opposite. The Esplanade was awash and dangerous and efforts were made to stop the erosion while the sea was running down Albert Street. Power was out for two days; schools were closed and roads in and out were closed. This was 35 years ago, 1987. Two major storms hit Whitianga within a month. In that emergency, . Peter Abrahamsen once again with machinery and a clear focus on what needed to be done worked wth a number of volunteers in this emergency. Rocks plus groynes were put out in 1987 in that emergency. 35 years later, as can c be seen in the photo, there is a natural build up of sand. The dunes life is there.


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