Many Northern Beaches residents remain aghast at the construction of a sea wall protruding seven metres from ground level on Collaroy Beach, with ongoing environmental and safety concerns.
Although the wall was constructed in the hope of protecting private and public assets from intense weather conditions, many feel the longstanding issue of coastal erosion will not be addressed with these measures and could pose further threat.
Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches president Brendan Donohoe said coastal protection works are vital, but the solution undertaken by local council was an "abomination" and would "ruin the beach".
"This is very much slanted towards private landholders, the beach has been insulted and the public have been insulted in the process," Mr Donohoe said.
"For this type of retrograde engineered project to be taking place in one of the wealthiest areas in Australia is just disgraceful. Local government is not equipped to deal with this hard issue, nor do they have the budget."
University of Sydney coastal geomorphologist Professor Andy Short agrees with this viewpoint.
"The outcome was a slap in the face for public beach amenity," Professor Short said.
"It is the worst possible structure that could be built for a popular public beach. If it had to be built, it should have been sloping to lessen the impact."
Professor Short explained the waves reflect straight off the wall, resulting in more rapid and greater erosion, and a slower beach recovery.
"Vertical sea walls on public beaches went out more than 100 years ago. Private property has always been on the beach there, not set back, and it has been eroding since the 1920s."
Rising sea levels will continue to worsen the issue, according to Professor Short, who said the wall will become increasingly exposed.
Other beaches around the country have similar problems and Professor Short believes the matter is a national issue.
"It should have a national response, along with a set of guidelines and federal funding, there should be joint coordinated action," he said.
"We will either have no beach at all or will require massive sand nourishment."
A Northern Beaches Council spokesperson said there were ongoing issues for the state government to address relating to the protection of private property up and down the NSW coastline.
"In particular, legislation needs to change to deal with instances where private landholders are unable to fund the cost of protecting their properties, or where council may want to construct the works in the public interest and recover the cost from those that benefit most," the spokesperson said.
According to Mr Donohoe, project management of the construction at Collaroy is under question and the marine environment is suffering collateral damage.
"After a recent couple of days of six to eight foot swell, a good deal of the protective bund bordering the construction had washed into the sea, including metres of plastic geo-textile material," Mr Donohoe said.
Aside from the plastic pollution, rocks, fill and road base washed back into the shallows in the surf, which may be hazardous to unsuspecting swimmers.
Northern Beaches CEO Ray Brownlee said it was unfortunate the large swells created by Cyclone Seth caused the protective bund to breach.
"We are working closely with contractors to remove debris and improve management at this site," Mr Brownlee said.
"There is a significant amount of rock which has been on this public beach for some 40 years which will be removed as part of the sea wall project to improve safety and public access."
Professor Short and Mr Donohoe both believe sand nourishment would have been a more productive solution, which was first proposed in 1993 to widen the beach.
"Nothing much has happened in that sphere despite lobbying for many years. Storms come, there is a flurry of activity and then nothing happens," Mr Donohoe said.
The best option according to Professor Short would be to make the area a public reserve, with financial support from state and federal governments.
"If properties were bought back at market value and a public reserve established, the hazard zone of the last 120 years would no longer be an issue," he said.
The three and a half kilometre stretch of beach from North Narrabeen to Collaroy is steeped in the history of modern surfing.
"These are extraordinary landscapes which as a community we have spent millions on to protect. We are furious about having these blocks of non-ambulatory beach, it's sacrosanct," Mr Donohoe said.
Private property owners have spent large sums of money on the project and one of the biggest complaints locals have about the "brutalist" construction is a lack of consultation.
"We could have easily had different outcomes, it would have saved them a lot of money and provided us all with a better beach," Mr Donohoe said.
"I'm not blaming the residents, they were offered a solution and they aren't experts. But they are now regarded by many as pariahs."
The president of Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches said the group met over 60 times between the last consultation about any sea wall and the completed section of vertical design.
"The community was seemingly shut out of the process," he said.
"Our immediate goal is to freeze the extension of any vertical wall, seek review and proper consultation."
However, council said the community had provided feedback as part of the consultation process for the DA and all submissions would be considered as part of the assessment process.
During periods of erosion, stretches of beach will be impassable and attempting to navigate the coastline with its landscape drastically changed could be dangerous.
"Meanwhile the wall protects virtually every square inch of private yards, I take exception to that while we are losing metres and metres of beach after every storm," Mr Donohoe said.
"I am not suggesting these properties shouldn't be defended, but there are less damaging ways."
According to council, the current sections of wall are expected to be completed within the next three months.
"As these are private works, the timeline is set by the private property owners," the spokesperson said.
"Another approved section of the wall is expected to commence in the first half of 2022 and another private section is currently being assessed and will go to the independent planning panel for final determination."
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