Environmental / Resource Management

Court Finds Council Caused Coastal Erosion

What was it Robert Burns said about the best laid schemes of mice an' men?

The Tasman District Council might be reflecting upon the perils of best laid schemes following a recent Environment Court decision on an application for enforcement orders.

The stabilisation of coastal environments is such a tricky proposition that some think it should never be attempted, and the coastal form left to nature to determine. But local authorities quite frequently endeavour to stabilise or improve coastal amenities by building structures on the foreshore or seabed.

In 1996 the Tasman District Council constructed a groyne in the form of a sand filled geo-textile sausage on a normally unstable sand spit offshore of the northern outlet to the Moutere River. The intention was to protect the entrance to Port Motueka by directing southerly travelling sand offshore and so maintain a channel into the Port.

The applicant owned land at Jackett Island, a coastal barrier island lying between Motueka and the Kina Peninsula. In 2002, well before the Council constructed the groyne, the applicant built a new dwelling on the island on the site of an older structure. At the time of construction the dwelling was 55m from high tide, but subsequent erosion had put it just 23m away, with erosion continuing.

It was agreed by all parties that the growth of the sandspit was at the expense of sand that would otherwise have replenished the land on Jackett Island, and that in particular the extreme southerly position of the spit was the cause of the erosion.

The applicant sought an enforcement order under section 314 of the Resource Management Act 1991 requiring the Council to remedy the effects caused by the ongoing presence of the groyne. The parties agreed that the Court should determine, in the first instance, whether the groyne caused the erosion, and if that was found to be the case then to consider the appropriate remedy.

The Court considered the evidence of experts for each of the parties and concluded that the groyne had not only failed in its original intent, but also had the unintended and unexpected effect of influencing the ability of the spit to grow, extend and resist erosion. The result was that it had captured virtually all of the sand that would otherwise have deposited on the downstream shore of Jackett Island. The placement of the groyne structure on the offshore spit by the Council had led to the formation of the spit in its present form, which in turn had brought about the erosion on Jackett Island. The Court found it could make enforcement orders against the Council, although the form of those enforcement orders was left to subsequent proceedings.

Although very much a case that turned on its facts and consideration of the expert evidence available, it nevertheless sends a cautionary message to local authorities considering works of this nature in the coastal marine area. In this environment it seems that so often the effects of apparently benign interventions turn out to be anything but, and the mischief resulting may far outweigh the intended positive outcome.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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