By Michael Gunson
WIAL’s grand plan for Lyall Bay’s surf breaks:
The Surf break Protection Society (SPS) would like to think that its submission opposing Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL)’s airport extension and artificial swell focus reef is the cause of the airport company’s decision to suspend and revise its consent application. The reality is probably that the society’s submission is only one of a number of high quality submissions that have led WIAL to suspend the process.
After recent investigations and inquiries by SPS, WIAL have stated that they have no plans to increase the Moa Point Rd seawall, next to the Corner surf break, during the next 12 months.
This has come as a bit of a surprise to Wellington surfers, as it was assumed these works since 2000 had been undertaken by the Wellington City Council, not the largely privatised WIAL. The works on the seawall are undoubtedly having an adverse effect on the Corner surf break, Wellington’s most popular surfing venue. These works coincide with WIAL seeking the deletion of the Corner surf break from the GWRC Natural Resources Plan (PNRP)’s schedule of regionally significant surf breaks.
WIAL have been modifying the Moa Point Rd seawall next to the Corner surf break utilising a permitted rule under the old existing GWRC Regional Coastal Plan (Dude, this means WIAL don’t have to ask anyone to throw rocks over the seawall!).
The existing Regional Coastal Plan is soon to be replaced with the new Proposed Natural Resources Plan (PNRP). The PNRP specifically incorporates surf break protection policies, compliant with the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010.
The works on the seawall have changed the behaviour of swell approaching the Corner surf break, by changing the slope angle, which now absorbs much of the swell energy traveling along the seawall.
Over the last 6 years or more, the works have continued with an increased frequency/scale, impacting on surfing wave quality at the Corner surf break.
A number of Wellington’s surfers are also confused as to what WIAL is actually offering by way of the airport company only mitigating for the impacts of the proposed airport extension on Lyall Bay’s surf breaks.
WIAL’s Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) for the consent application (page 137) states that “Avoiding or reducing the effects of the proposed runway extension on surfing amenity is difficult to achieve without impacting the length of the runway extension.”
So instead of avoiding or remedying effects on the Corner (and acknowledged significant effects on the Bay’s middle and western surf breaks) WIAL’s application to the Environment Court is only in the context of mitigation, the lowest response available under the RMA (aside from doing nothing).
WIAL’s own desktop modelling indicates an adverse effect on Wellington’s most popular “Corner” surf break, which the airport company contests is only minimal.
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 (WIAL AEE).
The peer review of WIAL’s technical report acknowledges that the effects of wave-driven currents on the Corner are also an unknown factor.
WIAL’s DHI technical report does not take into account the cumulative effects of a replacement sea wall, and CentrePort’s proposed dredge disposal grounds off Fitzroy Bay on the Corner surf break, as these activities are not part of the airport extension consent applications.
WIAL is still unwilling to undertake a degree of baseline monitoring necessary to gauge the overall adverse effects on the Corner surf break. (Note that seeing they have already impacted on the surf quality, even a baseline would show it to be worse than it previously was).
WIAL have given an undertaking that when they provide a final design concept for the artificial swell focus reef (not yet provided in WIAL’s AEE), the focus reef structure itself, will not have an adverse effect on the Corner. This is utterly meaningless unless WIAL understand the baseline conditions, the natural processes that form the surf break, and environmental influences that impact on the break, like modifying the seawall (which they don’t).
Artificial swell focus reefs are an unproven technology, there is not one working example anywhere in the world designed specifically for surfing.
What happens if the artificial surf focus reef fails?
It doesn’t really seem to matter, because WIAL will have their airport extension and any response required will be guided simply by the objectives, rules, and policies in the GWRC Proposed Natural Resources Plan (PNRP) that protect the Corner surf break, and all other surf breaks of Lyall Bay. Unless WIAL’s submission to the PNRP is successful of course…
WIAL have submitted decisively in opposition to these surf break protections in the PNRP, and there is every indication that WIAL will appeal these protections for the Corner surf break through an Environment Court process entirely separate to the airport company’s consent applications.
The hearings for the PNRP are due in March next year, and the suspension for the WIAL airport extension application has lent WIAL a helpful timeframe to test its submission seeking the deletion of the Corner surf break from the PNRP schedule of regionally significant surf breaks, before the airport extension consent applications begin.
WIAL need the Corner deleted to provide a mitigation offset for the airport extension, a promenade with a new rock-armoured seawall down the length of Moa Point Rd with viewing platforms, and a reworked breakwater (WIAL AEE).
In WIAL’s submission to the GWRC PNRP, the company has comprehensively sought the deletion of the Corner surf break from all references in the plan, and there is every possibility that WIAL would be prepared for a trade-off in not pursuing the deletion of surf break policies totally in the PNRP, simply for the removal of the Corner surf break, from the PNRP’s schedule of regionally significant surf breaks.
WIAL are also seeking a new rule in the PNRP under 5.7.6. Seawalls. Specifically for the replacement of existing seawalls they are seeking that it be a permitted activity status (that means that the public would not be consulted and no consent or public notification is required).
WIAL are also contesting in part the existing rule 165, specifically that part which lists the schedule of regionally-significant surf breaks as a matter of control – in this case meaning that works must ensure no adverse effects occur on the Corner surf break.
In other words: Dude, WIAL don’t want to look out for the Corner surf break as they keep dumping rocks off the seawall, and are opposing any rules that mean they would have too.
Under the existing regional coastal plan the rules on structures (seawalls) that WIAL have been using come with conditions that: Any maintenance, repair, replacement extension, addition or alteration to or of any existing lawful structure adds no more than 5 metres in horizontal projection and 1 metre in vertical projection measured from the structure existing at 29 June 1994 (the date of public notification of that Plan as a proposed plan).
The New PNRP that replaces the old Regional Coastal Plan resets the clock for the sea wall footprint as of 31 July 2015, meaning that WIAL will be able to extend a further 5 metres into the sea – IF the Corner is not a consideration.
WIAL were reportedly adding to the Moa Point Road seawall footprint right up to that date in 2015, meanwhile, SPS and the Wellington Boardriders club were negotiating in good faith over avoiding adverse effects on the Corner surf break from the extension and swell focus reef.
During these consultations, WIAL’s Communications Manager Greg Thomas continued to deflect questions about the Corner surf break back toward the perceived benefits of the proposed artificial swell focus reef. Mr Thomas knew full well our concerns over impacts of modifications to the seawall on the Corner surf break.
Due to concerns raised by SPS, GWRC are now revising the works undertaken by WIAL along the Moa Point Rd seawall to ensure the airport company has been complying with the rules of the existing coastal plan.
If WIAL gets its way in the PNRP appeals process by eliminating the Corner surf break, the airport company will be able to build its new armoured Moa Point Rd sea wall (page 212, 283, WIAL AEE) without consulting surfers or the general public.
It should be noted that while the promenade and new seawall are in WIAL’s AEE for the airport extension, the consents for the promenade will be a separate consent application to Wellington City Council.
Unless WIAL’s submission is challenged there is the real potential that the new sea wall to provide viewing platforms down to sea level in WIAL’s AEE, being undertaken without any consultation or consideration of the Corner surf break.
This whole scenario provides a level of difficulty for surfers in debating cumulative effects on the Corner surf break through the airport extension environment court process.
WIAL are doing everything they can to walk away from its obligations to the Corner surf break, as perceived by the surfer dudes (including SPS) who were consulting with WIAL in good faith over the promise of an artificial swell focus reef.
WIAL’s desire is to complete these works related to the promenade and seawall prior to the construction of the airport extension being completed (AEE page 264).
Over the next fifteen years WIAL are seeking to progressively develop commercial activities with its sites on the Western apron, in the vicinity of the Corner surf break.
By all appearances it would seem that the existence of the Corner surf break conflicts with WIAL’s vision for this area.
If you have any historical photos of the Moa Point Rd seawall over the last fifteen years or so (with dates), please email them to email@example.com and we will pass them on to the GWRC investigating officer.
SPS is committed to protecting the Corner and all surf breaks through the PNRP Environment Court appeal process, and the society will challenge this assault on the Corner, Airport Rights, and all of Lyall Bay’s surf breaks.
Dude, WIAL is not acting in good faith, if surfers fall for the carrot of an unproven artificial surf focus reef, and WIAL succeeds in removing the Corner from the schedule of regionally significant surf breaks, then the Airport company can simply walk away from any perceived obligations toward our Corner, and surfers will be asking themselves:
Dude, where’s my surf break?