Mr Pat Aiken, who has recently announced he will be standing for election to the new Central Coast Council in September, has raised the alarm about what he believes to be thick asbestos roof sheeting exposed by storm damage at Wamberal Beach.
According to Mr Aiken, who made a notification to the EPA about the exposed sheeting on Friday, March 31, it has been exposed, subject to the weather and accessible by the public since June 2016.
In a written statement, the EPA said that it had responded to reports of bonded asbestos being discovered on Wamberal Beach after being notified by a resident through Environment Line on March 31.
“Central Coast Council is the appropriate regulatory authority for this matter, and the EPA understands that they are treating this situation as a priority,” the EPA statement said.
“The EPA is working with council and will provide assistance as required.”
Central Coast Council said it had received reports of exposed asbestos on Wamberal Beach following the June 2016 storms.
“These reports were investigated and actioned with the property owners removing the material,” a media statement from the Council said.
“It appears that further asbestos may have been exposed after the recent wet weather,” the statement said.
“We have investigated this and we are taking action to have it removed.”
Mr Aiken said he believed the material may have been dumped as far back as the 1970s, but was exposed by the coastal erosion event that impacted Wamberal Beach in June 2016.
“Since July 2016, Central Coast Council has known of the existence of environmentally inappropriate materials situated in the cliff face or escarpment formed by the coastal erosion that occurred in June 2016,’ Mr Aiken said.
He said the Council was warned in a confidential report it commissioned in June 2016 that “environmentally inappropriate materials” were evident in the escarpment along Wamberal Beach.
“Council has not: publicly identified the exposure of the asbestos dumping; issued appropriate public warnings; taken action to ensure the removal of the asbestos cement debris from public land; and has most certainly not attempted to prevent exposure of the general public to this toxic contaminant,” Mr Aiken said.
“Despite many inspections by Council and State Government Officers, the debris remains in place and continues to represent a health risk to the general public,” he said.
Mr Aiken said he had taken photographs of the site in November, “but I didn’t realise at the time what I was taking.
“It has possibly become more uncovered because of the rain, but there is a massive amount, I reckon there would be a couple of wheel barrows of the stuff, I don’t know how far back it goes,” he said.
Mr Aiken described the material as resembling super thick roof sheeting.
In January, Mr Bruce Thom, the current chair of the NSW Coastal Panel and Mr Phil Watson, a member of the Panel’s Secretariat, were photographed adjacent to the material (see page 3).
The photograph was taken on the day of a beach inspection for the Land and Environment Court case between Wamberal residents and the Coastal Panel over their development application to build a revetment wall to protect their properties from coastal erosion.
Mr Aiken said it would be difficult and pointless to attempt to “lay blame” for how the materials ended up dumped at the beach.
However, he said the issue remained one of public safety now.
“The asbestos is on public land, on the seaward side of a property in Ocean View Dve, but well past that property’s boundary with the beach,” he said.
“Council has an absolute responsibility either to order people to remove the materials or order it to be cleaned up, but in this case, it is on land they control.
“It will only need another storm to get the material spread right across the beach, so Council has an obligation to inform the public and they have to remove the material at their cost.
“They know about it because using GIPA (Government Information Public Access legislation), I gained access to a heavily redacted Wamberal Beach Coastal Erosion Report, which says there was inappropriate material on the beach.”
The report was commissioned and obtained by Central Coast Council in June 2016.
The Wamberal residents fighting to build a revetment wall to protect their properties return to the Land and Environment Court on April 12.
The NSW Coastal Panel is the consent authority in the case, not Central Coast Council, because the Council’s Coastal Zone Management Plan has not yet been signed off by the NSW Government.
Major storm events in the 1970s resulted in homes being lost to the sea and a range of materials, including building debris, being used to protect other homes exposed to the same risk.
Federal, State and Local Governments were involved in these protection measures, and in 1978, there were real concerns that the sea would burst through the Wamberal Beach dune system at a location now referred to as the Ruins.
In June 2016, a severe storm caused damaged to private land and infrastructure.
Following the storm in June 2016, Central Coast Council commissioned a report titled, “Wamberal Beach NSW Storm Erosion Remediation Report R16029-01-01”, prepared by Coastal Environment Pty Ltd.
The report was kept confidential and not made public.
“The author, Mr Doug Lord, clearly identified extensive contamination of Wamberal Beach by ‘environmentally inappropriate materials’ and in an underlined statement, he called for the immediate removal of those materials and the many large pieces of debris in excess of 100kg sitting at height above the beach.
“Central Coast Council has not acted to remove those materials, and until recently, has withheld this critical information from the public,” Mr Aiken said.
Coastal Residents Incorporated applied for access to the confidential report in February, 2017, under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (GIPA).
Council decided, 30 days after the application, to provide highly restricted access to a heavily censored (redacted) version of the report.
Mr Aiken estimated that around 40 per cent of the document had been blacked out or redacted.
The document may only be inspected in the presence of a Council Officer, and three days’ notice must be given by the applicant wishing to inspect the censored report.
No more than four people may inspect the document at the same time, which has been divided into four sections for the purpose of inspection, and applicants must agree to sign a copyright statement.
The report was commissioned by Council to identify and prioritise storm remediation works and assess the risk to the public areas of the beach front, as well as identify properties which may be at risk following the weather event.
According to a statement from Council as to its reasons for keeping the report confidential: “The report also forms a body of evidence that has been gathered by Council in contemplation of future legal proceedings following the storm event.
“The likelihood of future proceedings is considered to be highly likely, as other areas within New South Wales, such as Byron Bay, have been subject to legal proceedings regarding matters of risk to beach front properties.
“Given the nature of the event that has occurred, Council considers the future prospect of proceedings to be highly likely.
“To release this information to the public would result in a prejudicial impact to Council regarding those proceedings.
“Other relevant factors against the release of this information taken into consideration are the reasonably expected prejudices to the exercise of Council’s functions in response to the impacts of the weather event.
“Council is still in the process of assessing the detail provided within the report and deliberating as to how it may exercise its functions accordingly.
“It is considered that if the information were to be released prematurely, before Council has had an opportunity to exercise any functions as it sees fit, the exercise of these functions may be prejudiced.”
Media statement and interview,
Apr 3, 2017
Pat Aiken, Coastal Residents Incorporated
Jackie Pearson, journalist