by Michael Gunson
Revelations have emerged that Wellington International Airport Ltd has been responsible for alterations to the Moa Point Road sea wall in Lyall Bay. Why has the airport been in charge of developing the sea wall, and not the Wellington City Council?
The incremental creep of the sea wall has had a negative impact on Wellington’s premier Lyall Bay Corner surf break. WIAL are also applying for consents to build a 3 meter wide promenade the length of Moa Point Rd, as well as seeking the Corner surf break’s deletion, from a GWRC schedule of regionally significant surf breaks.
Since the beginning, the airport company has reassured Wellington surfers that it is doing all it can to preserve our surf breaks in Lyall Bay, to mitigate future impacts and even improve it. As we stare down the barrel of their proposed runway extension, it is now becoming clear to Wellington’s surfing community that this is not the case.
The 346-page Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) only discusses mitigation, not active avoidance or a plan to remedy adverse effects on the Corner.
WIAL has submitted 28 documents to the Wellington City Council (WCC) and the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) and nowhere do they mention that they will seek to avoid or remedy adverse effects from the airport extension on the Lyall Bay Corner surf break (the Corner).
According to computer modelling conducted on behalf of WIAL by DHI Ltd, the construction of the airport extension will have negative impacts on the Corner’s surfing wave quality, yet DHI are unable to predict what effects would occur from wave driven currents e.g. sweep (longshore) and rip (outgoing cross shore) currents. This remains a big unknown.
The placement of an artificial swell focus reef also poses challenges, by creating adverse effects on the Corner, by way of interrupting the currents in the bay. The final design and placement of the reef needs further modelling and onsite instrumentation to find a way to avoid these extra adverse effects on the Corner.
WIAL have given a promise to Wellington surfers through their Surf Mitigation Adaptive Management Plan that the final concept design of the Swell Focus reef (which is only for the mitigation of surf in the west and center of Lyall Bay) will be in such a position and distance from the Corner that the proposed reef will avoid adverse effects on the Corner surf break.
The extension will still have adverse effects on the Corner surf break.
Wellington surfers have been confused by WIAL’s public relations that the Corner will be looked after. A final design concept for the reef has not yet been provided. Yet even with the remodelling of the Moa Point rock wall over the last 15 years, surfers have been complaining of the loss of the rip that runs up along the inside of the wall, beside the Corner surf break, and how that has affected the Corner’s legendary peak.
WIAL AEE p199 states:
“’Airport Rights’ is a surf break which is only utilised a few times a year during certain conditions by experienced surfers. The loss of this surfing amenity will therefore only affect a small group of expert surfers. The possible reduction of wave rides at ‘The Corner’ is likely to only be noticeable by the most seasoned and experienced surfers who have surfed ‘The Corner’ for many years.”
But the Wellington Boardriders Club’s (WBC) own scientific advice states that WIAL’s proposed baseline monitoring data of at least two months’ worth, for the proposed future detailed modelling for surf amenity impact assessment and for the concept design phase for the proposed submerged wave focussing structure by WIAL, is not adequate, nor is the level and frequency of monitoring going forward suitable to identify any adverse effects from the extension, or focus reef on the Corner.
As far as mitigation goes – the Draft Surf Mitigation Adaptive Management Plan should not be considered adequate to satisfy Wellington Board riders, it is certainly not adequate for the Surfbreak Protection Society (SPS).
Surbreak Protection Society’s (SPS) President Paul Shanks is warning surfers that any submission in support of the untested, unknown, focus reef is a submission endorsing WIAL’s degradation of the Corner.
On top of a lack of data to support WIAL’s PR that there will be only minor adverse effects on the Corner, WIAL’s AEE page 136 – 7.3.9 states:
“The only adverse assessed change in coastal physical processes that has been identified relates to the reduction in a combination of wave heights and period in parts of Lyall Bay, particularly in the north eastern area of Lyall Bay adjacent to the revetment”
That’s the Corner surf break.
WIAL failed to inform surfers during the collaborative consultation (prior to Consent lodgement) that WIAL plan to build a promenade along Moa Point Road, interfering with the Corner surf break, extending all the way down to Lyall Parade, and encompassing the existing Corner car park, opposite the Spruce Goose Café. When queried about the promenade, WIAL gave a short answer that “all improvement works from the breakwater to Lyall Parade will be undertaken on existing land.”
So what about the separate consents held by the Wellington City Council for the purpose of the maintenance and extension of the Moa Point sea wall?
Compounding the issues with the proposed runway extension is the fact that there has been continuous deposition of rock along the Moa Point Road sea wall pursuant to resource consents granted to the Wellington City Council. The council holds two non-notified consents to conduct works along the sea wall; surfers and the public never had the opportunity to comment on them. Surfers have spoken out about this for years.
The effects from this dumping on the Corner waves for surfing have been noticeable since the nineties, with the change to the shape and form of the sea wall. This has affected the Corner as rock is deposited on top of the sea wall and then bulldozed into the Corner’s swell corridor (“Swell corridor” means the region offshore of a surf break where ocean swell travels and transforms to a “surfable wave”). Wave energy is now absorbed by the sea wall reducing the reflection back to the focused take off point for the Corner surf break, impacting on the “insane peak” that the Corner is renowned for.
The latest batch of rocks have been placed on the wall, right next to Lyall Bay’s best wave, and it’s anyone’s guess when that will be pushed over the wall. The last earthworks activity on the Wall was in 2015.
Last week SPS alerted GWRC to the degradation of the Corner due to the dumped rocks and, upon the insistence of SPS, GWRC sought answers from the city council – SPS were shocked to discover that it appears as though it is not WCC degrading the Corner surf break, but rather WIAL has been undertaking these works. Whilst WCC holds consents that relate to the area in the corner of Lyall Bay Parade and Moa Point Road, WIAL does not hold consents to deposit material over the sea wall at the Corner surf break. SPS are seeking records of works undertaken under these consents, and whether there is any contract between WCC and WIAL for the airport company to exercise these consents on WCC’s behalf.
While these consents are legal, it is unfortunate that WIAL seem to be exercising these consents to potentially reclaim more of the seabed and foreshore at the expense of the Corner surf break, while their proposed promenade is to be built on “existing land”. Separate to the consents held by the city council.
Airport spokesperson John Kyle has given an assurance that no rock material will be pushed over the wall within the next 12 months, but there are questions that remain unanswered:
Who is in charge of managing the Moa Point Road sea wall after the new extension consents are issued?
Consent No. WGN010112  issued in 2001 gives the consent holder the right to extend the Western Sea Wall on Moa Point Road until 29 January 2036, and absolute authority to reclaim more of the Coastal Marine Area, to the detriment of the Corner surf break. What are WIAL’s plans for further reclamation by way of this consent?
Will the runway consents now being applied for give WIAL the right to continue degrading the Corner surf break in the name of securing the Moa Point Road access route to the airport?
The airport’s consent planner John Kyle has indicated that the city council sea wall consents are being exercised by the airport company. Is there is a conflict of interest here, with WIAL in charge of these sea wall reclamations that continue to degrade the Corner surf break, while at the same time, WIAL continue to pursue the deletion of the Corner surf break from the GWRC Proposed Natural Resources Plan.
GWRC have advised that if anyone witnesses any further works on the Moa Point Road sea wall, they should contact the GWRC environmental response team on 0800 496 734.
Returning to the application by WIAL to extend the runway, SPS believe that it is inadequate for WIAL to only propose mitigating adverse effects under amenity values and that this is an inappropriate response level for the impacts this project will deliver to Lyall Bay’s surf breaks. The application should be thrown out of court on this basis alone.
Under this paradigm, WIAL appear to be trading adverse effects on the Corner surf break simply by building an amenity feature, a promenade and the promise of an unproven technology in natural environments, a submerged swell focus structure. Perhaps this is why WIAL are ignoring the extension consent application’s compliance obligations in the context of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement’s surf break protection policies.
WIAL are seeking to have Lyall Bay surf breaks recognised under policies that only refer to amenity values that have less strength than surf break policies under the NZCPS.
While Lyall Bay could lose its Corner surf break, at least the surfers will have a lovely promenade to cycle, or walk their dog.
Time is running out. The runway extension is a massive risk to the enjoyment of Lyall Bay for surfers from Wellington, New Zealand and the rest of the world. Any Kiwis who identify themselves as being a surfer, should be writing a submission opposed to WIAL’s runway extension. Here is an easy way to do it online:
If you want to have your say on this, put in your submission by 12 August. Please clarify that you want to be heard in Court. The Surfbreak Protection Society is grateful for the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Guardians of the Bays in opposing the runway extension outright.
Michael Gunson, Research Officer at Surfbreak Protection Society, is a long-time Wellington surfer