Tidal action has undercut the bank, exposing pohutukawa tree roots. Photo Rob Brennan

A walk along the beach at Picnic Bay on the western side of Kennedy Point provides a pleasant vista and a sobering glimpse of the future.

King tides and storm swells undercut the bank above the sand, exposing and then undermining gnarled pohutukawa root systems, and collapsing the clay and sandstone slopes the trees have a tenuous hold on. It is a terrain under attack.

The question is what to do about it? Long-term Kennedy Point resident Raewyn Tremaine believes Auckland Council has a “managed retreat” policy for coastal erosion.

Last month, at a Hauraki Classroom workshop on how Waiheke residents could adapt to or mitigate flooding risk on their properties, Healthy Waters manager Dr Claudia Hellberg, in response to a question about projected sea level rise, said: “From my perspective, I don’t think there has been enough discussion. We need to decide do we retreat from the land and leave it to nature or build walls? What do we want?”

Paul Klinac, manager of council’s coastal management services team, echoes Dr Hellberg’s comments and acknowledges the challenges the region faces with over 3,200 kilometres of coastline and 20,000 km of waterways.

As for “managed retreat”, he says: “It depends. Can we hold the line in all locations? The answer is no.”

The cost would be prohibitive. A set of criteria is applied in each case. Priority is given to locations where significant structures and infrastructure are located close behind the affected area and cannot easily be relocated.

He gives the examples of Orewa, where a 640 metre long seawall is being constructed to protect the remaining esplanade that provides public access to the beach, and Bucklands Beach and Tamaki Drive, where key access roads are just back from the coast.

Conversely, he cites the case of Muriwai where managed retreat or “abandonment” is occurring because of the relatively minimal number of structures affected by the sea undercutting and eroding land.

Coastal erosion at Picnic Point is not a new problem. For more than 10 years residents adjoining the Kennedy Point esplanade reserve have been trying to make some progress working with council to find practical but affordable solutions.

Previously, property owners used kiwi know-how and common sense to slow the sea’s advance by piling up rocks to make loose sea walls at the high tide mark below their homes. That do-it-yourself approach came to an end in May 2007 when Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council staff met with residents and confirmed any structures in the coastal margin would need to be consented and approved. Even repairs to existing structures required consent, they were told.

And so the paper war began. “If we had a large rock for every piece of paper, we’d have a sea wall stretching from here to Oneroa”, Mrs Tremaine says.

That paper trail begins in 2007 when Mrs Pamela Nash and her late husband, Mr Ramon Nash, on behalf of the many residents, at their cost applied for consent to build a 200 metre long sea wall along the coastal strip. Engineering plans were drawn up and the consents were granted in December 2007.

In August 2012, after appeals to the council and successive community and local boards, $30,000 was approved by the local board for consent and construction costs. Current Waiheke Local Board chair Paul Walden explained in a recent note to the board that “a number of unresolved issues prevented completion of the physical works and the council portion of the project was cancelled”.

Mrs Tremaine has her own spin on the lapsed funding story. “Within the space of one term the $30,000 promised for repairs was spent by the then board on a sculpture – a replica of the Rocky Bay store which has since disappeared. The repair funds have disappeared too while the clay bank continues to erode into the sea.”

The residents could not raise the money to pay for their proposed share of the costs on the council-owned esplanade and now those old consents have expired. So, 10 years on, the residents are back to square one. They need to pay for new resource consent fees and supporting reports without any guarantee they will get approval or that ultimately funding will be found to do the work.

Mr Klinac says the council has assessed the cost of building a rock seawall to its engineering standards at a base cost of up to $3000 a lineal metre.

“We’re either getting a mansion or no house and I suspect we’re getting no house”, says Mrs Tremaine. “Why not try a No.8 Kiwi solution – barge in a pile of rocks and plonk it down. If it doesn’t work, oh well we tried. Doing something is better than doing nothing. The paper work exasperates me more than anything.”

She says it is not a case of owners of high-value coastal properties expecting the council to use ratepayers’ funds to benefit a few. “It’s an all-tides swimming beach. School children swim there after school. The residents have done planting and weeding. They built the sea pontoon for swimmers and pick up rubbish, all at their own expense.”

The whole beach area is council esplanade reserve. Up behind it is the council’s Esslin Road Reserve, and it is this smaller beach frontage where the residents want the council to pay to build a sea wall.

The sea wall along the rest of the esplanade strip has privately owned properties behind it and would be funded by the residents, but they say they cannot afford the “mansion” standard the council apparently wants. It is a twinned approach and building only one part will not achieve a lasting benefit, says Mrs Tremaine.

Mr Klinac says because of the cost, a seawall is the least preferred option. “Auckland Council is looking at the structure option, but we still haven’t made a call as to whether a seawall is required. We want to explore other options for planting and drainage, then monitor the site.”

A workshop on Picnic Bay erosion issues was held on 30 May at Ostend involving council staff, local board members and residents, which Mr Klinac considers was positive.
“I know historically Picnic Bay has been quite contentious but now it is moving forward in a collaborative way”, he says.

The way forward for residents has two steps Mr Klinac says. First they need the approval of the council, as owner, and then they need a resource consent to build and occupy the seawall as a structure on council owned land for up to 35 years. Provided what is proposed meets required engineering standards he is optimistic the approvals would be given for the non-Esslin Road Reserve section of the beach.

The latest page in the Picnic Bay sea wall story was turned at the local board meeting on 22 June. The board, on Mr Walden’s recommendation, resolved to allocate $9000 from its Community Response (Locally Driven Initiatives) budget to review and update the expired permit and land use consent for the wall. • Rob Brennan

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