AT Stockton the waves are pounding and the only thing that stands between those waves and beachfront homes is starting to fail.
The Mitchell Street rock seawall was only ever meant to be a temporary fix. But like so much public infrastructure the temporary fix of the 1980s is still in place in 2018.
But this time it seems something must be done.
Stockton is one of many points up and down the NSW coastline that is under threat of coastal erosion. And we’ve known about this threat for quite some time.
A combination of king tides, heavy storms and wild seas can destroy the defences we rely on to hold back the ocean, and it can all happen in a manner of hours. Governments have been grappling for years with scientific research showing climate change will raise sea levels and put at risk billions of dollars of public and private property.
Those warnings have been rejected, minimised, denied or simply lost in the decades that we’ve debated climate change, and particularly in the past decade of the climate change wars, when facts were buried under politics and money.
Huge seas in January revealed just how precarious the situation is now for so many people. At Stockton a child care centre closed temporarily after waves threatened to swallow its playground.
Days later a long-abandoned garbage dump was revealed, complete with asbestos. Down the coast at Wamberal tens of multi-million dollar houses are in limbo. In some cases their beach frontages are sheer drops, the sand gouged away by the sea.
Save Stockton Beach founder Simon Jones summed up the problem of our precarious coastlines, when he noted: “In big swell there is a lot of energy crashing onto the rocks. You can feel the wall shaking.”
There are powerful interests in society arguing that the environment is important, but not as important as people, jobs, progress and growth. But that argument fails to address those times when people have no control over the environment, when cyclones flatten homes and landscapes, when floods sweep all before it, or when huge seas smash a path to land.
At Stockton local and state governments are trying to provide a permanent solution to that suburb’s precarious hold on the coast, now that we can’t wish the problem away. And that’s just one problem area.