'Like a war zone': Residents fear coastal homes will collapse into sea

Michael Dahlstrom and Olivia Lambert
·6-min read

Residents fear their luxury coastal homes are going to collapse into the ocean as the sand at the edge of their properties continues to erode in intense storms.

Homeowners in Wamberal Beach on NSW’s Central Coast have watched their properties teeter closer and closer to the water’s edge for years, and claim the council has done nothing to prevent the erosion despite their desperate pleas.

Since heavy storms in 2016, residents have lobbied hard for a revetment wall, a hard permanent structure to prevent subsidence.

As huge storms hit the beach over the past two days, homeowners have described their frustration as again they see their homes compromised further as the sand outside their Ocean View Road properties continues to disappear.

Pictured is a home backing onto Wamberal Beach on a cliff edge.
A home teetering on the edge of a dune on Wamberal Beach. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

Warren Hughes, who lives on the south end of Wamberal Beach, told Yahoo News Australia he was “extremely upset, disappointed and disillusioned”.

“This situation has been going on for four years with Central Coast Council and all we ever wanted to do four years ago was have the right as a basic Australian to protect our property,” he said.

“They made it clear they weren’t going to do anything – but they were going to sue us if we put one sandbag on our property.

“It’s just an insane situation.”

Mr Hughes, who is also a member of the Wamberal Beach Protection Association, said about $10 to $20 million worth of damage had been done to houses and infrastructure in “frightening” storms this week.

Pictured is Wamberal Beach resident Warren Hughes in front of the ocean.
Wamberal Beach resident Warren Hughes fears for his home. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

“We’re all running on about two hours sleep – especially when high tide hit last night,” he said.

“It’s pretty surreal.”

‘We’ve lost six metres of our own yards’

Resident Margaret Brice shared Mr Hughes’ frustrations and added it was “very scary”.

“The waves were hitting quite hard against the base of the dune. You could obviously feel the reverberations,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“A lot of the action also happened in the day – we had a nine to 11-metre swell, so they were massive.”

Pictured is Margaret Brice in front of Wamberal Beach.
Margaret Brice is concerned for her home on Wamberal coast. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

Ms Brice said homeowners on the coast used to have a 15-metre clearing from properties to the water’s edge, but now they’ve got a measly two.

“We’ve lost all the sand on the beach, probably six metres of our own yards,” she said.

“We now have vertical cliffs outside our houses and all this could have been prevented by building a revetment wall, which has been recommended and in the pipeline in council for nearly 20 years.”

Ms Brice said development control plans for the area identified a revetment wall would be built, which was why people were allowed to develop properties in the area in the first place.

Pictured is the back of a Wamberal Beach home on the edge of the eroded dune.
Wamberal residents have called for council to build a revetment wall. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Austrakia

The worried homeowner also fears the whole of Wamberal will be engulfed by the ocean if nothing is done to protect it.

“The dune sits at nine metres above sea level and the road sits at three metres behind it, so if this dune is breached and these houses go, the whole of Wamberal will go behind it. That’s hundreds of homes,” she said.

“This is a key piece of infrastructure to protect this area.”

‘There’s not enough sand in front of homes’

Chris Drummond, from UNSW’s Water Research Laboratory, told Yahoo News Australia he would be worried if he owned a home in the erosion hotspot.

“What we’ve seen over the last 12 months are a number of storms, naturally occurring storms, but they remove the sand buffer from in front of those properties. What we’ve seen over the last two to four days is a large east coast low storm which has taken away the buffer and undermined a number of properties here,” he said.

“There’s not enough sand on the beach in front of these properties and when you get large storms, if there’s not enough sand then the properties get undermined.”

Pictured is Chris Drummond, from UNSW's Water Research Laboratory, in front of the ocean.
Chris Drummond, from UNSW's Water Research Laboratory. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

Mr Drummond said there were plans to redesign a sea wall on this particular stretch of coast as opting to retreat would not be viable.

“Retreat is not an option where you move the houses back. It’s not economically feasible for all those houses to retreat and councils are left with a legacy issue where houses were given consent many years ago,” he said.

Mr Drummond has been studying the coastline at Wamberal Beach for six to seven years and said over the last 12 to 18 months sand had been washed away by storms and had not been able to naturally recover in front of the Ocean View Road homes.

Pictured is a side view of homes showing how close they are to the edge of the dune.
Residents say their homes are now on a cliff edge. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

“With climate change projections, we’re looking at storms like this becoming more frequent and more intense,” he said.

“It’s hard to say if what we’re seeing right now is the start of climate change, but what we can say is these events will become more frequent into the future.”

‘The beach is not safe’

Coastal erosion is not the only problem those in Wamberal face, with storms uncovering buried asbestos that is now flowing through the water and strewn along the coastline.

“The beach is not safe, it’s full of asbestos now and steel frames and it looks like a war zone,” Mr Hughes said.

Upper House Liberal MP Taylor Martin told Yahoo News Australia the asbestos had been a problem for decades, but particularly in the past five years.

“It’s been exposed in winter when we have these east coast lows,” he said.

“The Central Coast Council has known about this asbestos problem for years.”

Mr Martin said over the past 48 hours asbestos that had been buried previously was washing through the sea and locals will find it for years to come up and down the coastline of Terrigal, Wamberal and Forresters Beach.

Pictured is a set of stairs leading up to a home hanging off the edge of a cliff.
The stairs to a home on Wamberal Beach after storms this week. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo News Australia

“Even as far south as Avoca asbestos has turned up recently and now it’s strewn up and down our beach once again,” he said.

Mr Martin claimed council had signs up for years warning of asbestos, but it was its responsibility to deal with it now it’s been dug out of the dune.

Central Coast Council told Yahoo News Australia in a statement teams were monitoring coastal infrastructure, beach access points and coastal lagoon levels.

“Council teams have been on the ground checking in on residents in impacted areas, and continuing to monitor coastal infrastructure and coastal lagoon levels – responding as required to protect our community and environment,” a spokesperson said.

“We have been onsite working with residents and the NSW SES, monitoring the situation in Wamberal in particular to help keep everyone informed and safe as the situation evolves.”

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