Its an urgent future
by Pauline Stewart
These people want to save their homes. Their homes line the shores of Wharekaho beach. There would be in excess of 35 properties. The stretch of beach which has the focus of evryone’s attention spans about 500 metres. Every home to some degree has had its perimeter nearest the beach devastated by erosion from recent storms and in particular, Cyclone Gabrielle. The very future of the structure of some of the homes is at a critical juncture. Another cyclone could see part of the frontages topple into the ocean. There are cruel reminders in broken boat sheds,collapsed stairways and sheering of their frontages. is really If there is an enemy in allof this it is erosion. The ration of the beach threatens the very existence of their homes.
They have invited the Mayor to their meeting. Actually to have an audience with Mayor len is the reason for their meeting. The Informer is allowed to be present. Te reis a very. Large representation of residents. There is no interview with the Mayor or the residents; that would be at this time, in poor taste. .But to not share some of the aspects of the reasons or the meeting would be irresponsible. No one can doubt the urgency and seriousness of the matter on every ones lips and even in their stature.
Graham Vivian is the chair of the meeting and he reads a letter to the Mayor. Everyone present is grateful that Mayor Len can come on a Sunday afternoon and that he was willing to come. He has already been at the Lions Family Picnic playing in the Dixieland Band and he will return there after this meeting.
An extract from the letter by Graham Vivian
“Thank you for making the time to visit Wharekaho today. We understand that you have many significant issues to resolve and appreciate that you have come here - We are disappointed that, nearly three weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle, your Coastal Pathway people have not engaged with us on what course of action they recommend now that the four metre erosion trigger point has very clearly been surpassed (there is 10 metres of erosion in front of many properties) Dune restoration with spinifex is no longer an option here but neither is the managed retreat advocated by TCDC’s coastal experts!
A number of the property owners of Wharekaho have been here for generations. We are little known to tourists and even to many locals and feel decidedly neglected by the council to whom we pay our rates. We have no reticulated water, no sewage, no footpaths. The one-way bridges at each end of Wharekaho on SH25 flood in heavy rain. Some of us remember that about 40 years ago we had to mount a legal campaign to fight a Council plan to pump Whitianga’s sewage out into the sea at the southern end of the beach. Facing the threat that is in front of us now, erosion unprecedented in living memory, we are a strongly united resourceful group.
…….We are all too aware that unless action is taken very soon we will likely see many of the houses along this beach red stickered in the not too distant future. We must also be able to prove that we have taken every action possible to protect our properties in order not to compromise our insurance policies. It is urgent!
Long drawn out, expensive bureaucratic Council consent processes which have evolved over the years may have worked in the past but will not, in this situation, help the people you were elected to serve Mayor. Commonsense and decisive leadership is needed.
Dune restoration is great in an ideal world where there is space and time to spare. But as you will have to agree, it simply won’t work in this situation. There are soft and hard engineering options available which are shown to be very successful. The precedents set with rock walls protecting the road along the Firth of Thames, at Cooks Beach and Buffalo Beach for example have proven to work. The rock wall which is invisible under native plants at a property along this beach survived Gabrielle unscathed.
Of course Council needs to fund and fast track the repair of the three public walkways which are the only way people can access the beach without clambering down and damaging the fragile banks. These repairs will obviously need to be hard engineered.
However, we understand that the property owners affected by the erosion will need to pay for the remedial work that our experts recommend and this we have resolved to do.
We have consulted reputable and experienced coastal scientists and engineers to look into long term protection of our homes. We urge the TCDC to immediately set up a small, competent team that can engage with us to fast track approval of proposed erosion protection work along the beachfront at Wharekaho. I fear that if this is not done very soon there are people who will take matters into their own hands.
Hopefully you and your new CEO can show the necessary leadership to cut through bureaucratic procedures, which are no longer fit for purpose, to set up streamlined processes that will allow us to protect our properties.
Please take our message back to your Council …….
Thank you again Len for taking time to come and see for yourself what lies in front of us.”
Mayor Len promised to organise a session with planners in ten or so days. He was very clear he could not promise anything but urged the residents to keep on and to not give up. One resident said, “We need to know if our concern and our plan to address the issue will be taken seriously and treated urgently; we are following suburban planning to the letter, consulting the best engineers and are willing to pay for the cost; so can we expect support? Is this worth our while proceeding with?”
There were many similar conversations. Mayor Len could not provide any easy answers. There are none. But he went away heavy with the responsibility of being the key member and leader of the TCDC team that will lead the Coromandel into an uncertain future. Clearly, the option of NOT retreating will need to be seen as a viable option by more than the residents of Wharekaho.
On the return walk along a very eroded beach, the Worthington family were enjoying the pristine waves lapping at their feet, introducing their little girl to the ocean. She was laughing with delight. The scene was so hopeful, so peaceful. We can do more than we have done to this point to reserve a future for community life along the shores of the Coromandel.
Caption: Mayor Len listens carefully to Graham Vivian as he explains the desperate situation of many of the homes at Wharekaho. This can be seen in the other photographs.