Dunes collapse fear: beaches closed

Big seas caused serious damage to the dune near this house adjacent to Don Street at Belongil Beach.
Big seas caused serious damage to the dune near this house adjacent to Don Street at Belongil Beach.
The combined impact of a big tide and a storm surge saw the occupants of four vulnerable houses at Belongil Beach evacuated by emergency services on Saturday night.

With the dune in front of the homes being pounded by waves, Byron Shire SES controller, Noel McAviney, said there was a lot of concern about the safety of the occupants.

However, Mr McAviney said after an inspection on Sunday morning, the houses were declared safe and the occupants were allowed to return.

He said the geo-tech sandbags laid on the beach in front of houses at Belongil Beach in 1999 had done a ‘marvellous’ job, but this time waves had gone over the top of them and eroded the dune behind.

Belongil Beach property owner, John Vaughan, told ABC radio there had been a lot of damage to the beach.

Mr Vaughan said a substantial amount of his land had been eroded away and there was now a six-metre drop to the beach.

He repeated his claim that the groyne at the Main Beach car park was the cause of the Belongil erosion problem, with the groyne ‘realigning’ the coastline.

On Monday, the council has closed all beach accesses in the shire because of fears of severely eroded dunes collapsing.

General manager Graeme Faulkner said the storms had devastated the coastline leaving dangerous vertical sand dune escarpments of up to five metres high.

“The sand dunes are at an imme  diate risk of collapse and we advise everyone to stay off the beaches and away from above and below the sand dunes,” he said.

“We are also recommending that people should avoid the beach altogether because of the dangers poised by steep escarpments and high tides.”

The areas affected include the entire Byron Shire coastline including South Golden Beach, New Brighton, Ocean Shores and Byron Bay down to Suffolk Park.

“An area of considerable concern is Belongil Beach, Byron Bay,” Mr Faulkner said.

Mr Faulkner said the council was securing structural and coastal engineering resources from State Government agencies, including the Department of Commence and Department of Environmental and Climate Change, to carry out an urgent assessment of houses that might be at immediate risk from damage.

“Due to the accesses to beaches being dangerous and the upcoming high tides, restoration to the beach accesses is not possible at this time,” Mr Faulkner said.

“Any pressure placed on the dunes may result in the escarpments collapsing, placing considerable risk to staff or contractors,” he said.

The council will be cleaning up beach hazards and asks everyone to stay away from any exposed areas, keep off the sand dunes and stay well away from the erosion escarpments.

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