Race against time, tides

Belongil Beach home owner, John Vaughan, inspects progress of protection works on Monday.
Belongil Beach home owner, John Vaughan, inspects progress of protection works on Monday.
It has been a race against time this week to protect threatened Belongil Beach homes against king tides and wild seas.

Byron Council workers have completed interim works to protect beach access points and John Vaughan, owner of one of the most threatened properties, has had contractors carrying out work in front of his house.

Mr Vaughan started work immediately after reaching a Land and Environment Court-sanctioned settlement with the council last week.

There are two very conflicting arguments about how the settlement was reached, but what can be agreed on is that firstly, Mr Vaughan was given the go-ahead to rebuild a damaged council-approved sandbag wall to protect his erosion-threatened home – and secondly, as usual in such cases, the real winners are the lawyers.

Mr Vaughan said the court settlement he had reached with the council was exactly what he had proposed before the four-day court hearing which led to the settlement and which was likely to cost both parties a total of around $800,000 in legal fees.

It was a process, he said, which was a ‘sad, sad waste of money’ and which had led to erosion claiming about 400 square metres of his property.

A clearly angry Mr Vaughan, who said his house was the only one of 32 Belongil beachfront houses without rock wall protection, took no real joy out of the court outcome.

He said after three weeks and hundreds of thousands of dollars on court costs, the council had consented to the ‘open offer’ he had made at the outset.

He could now rebuild the sandbag wall which the council had approved and built after a major storm event in 2001, he said.

That work, expected to cost about $250,000, started late last week and on Monday workers employed by Mr Vaughan were racing against time to complete interim protection works to combat potentially damaging king tides on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Said Mr Vaughan: “I don’t know what the mayor and her crew are trying to prove.

“It’s all about me trying to rebuild an approved wall, whatever spin is put on it.

“It’s just insane what is going on. It’s just a sad, sad tale.”

However, Byron Mayor, Cr Jan Barham, sees it a little bit differently.

Cr Barham told the Byron News the council had agreed to allow the special geo-textile sandbags to be placed on the beach in front of Mr Vaughan’s house well before the start of the four-day hearing.

What the council had objected to, she said, was Mr Vaughan’s plan to dump rocks on the beach.

That was the reason why the council had sought – and won – an interim injunction in the court early this month preventing him doing that.

It was that injunction that led to the latest four-day hearing initiated by Mr Vaughan who had sought a variation to the order.

 Said Cr Barham: “For us it was very simple. The injunction was about rocks.”

The mayor said if Mr Vaughan had come to the council ‘to work with us’, rather than taking matters into his own hands by dumping rocks, ‘we might have been able to work through this’.

She said the council had to stop the rocks from being dumped on the beach to prevent a precedent being set.

Cr Barham said the council had been working ‘tirelessly’ in recent weeks to try and reach an agreement with Mr Vaughan.

She said Mr Vaughan had been advised on June 4 that he could undertake interim geobag stabilisation of the dune in front of his home.

 The following day, the council advised the court and Mr Vaughan that it supported the concept of the geobag works in principle and indicated it required clarification of technical issues including the scope of the planned works, where the sand was going to come from and how access to the beach was going to be achieved, she said.

On June 11, Mr Vaughan had revised his position again and requested that the council pay to have the geobag wall built to the 2001 alignment.

Cr Barham said the council, acting with advice from its lawyers and insurers, had been trying to accommodate reasonable requests from Mr Vaughan, but he had kept changing his demands.

“It’s just been made very difficult by changing demands,” she said.

“We are government, and staff just can’t agree to things without it going to council.”

On Monday Mr Vaughan rejected many of the claims made by the mayor and said the matter was in the hands of his lawyers.

The court is yet to make a decision on who will foot the big legal bill for the latest legal stoush.

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