News, weather warning

Severe weather causing dangerous coastal erosion and rock falls

AUTHORITIES are warning residents to practice caution around beaches and headlands with the current weather conditions expected to exacerbate the possibility of coastal erosion and rock falls.

Wollongong City Council report rockfalls and ground movement at headland locations in Thirroul, Austinmer, Wombarra and Coalcliff. Where it is practical to do so, warning tape has been placed at the cliffs edge of those sites identified movement, or where rockfalls are present, to discourage people from getting too close to cliff edges.

Council will continue to monitor the sites and is urging people to be cautious with severe warnings currently in place from the Bureau of Meteorology, including for hazardous surf leading to coastal erosion on south-facing beaches and increasing the risk of falls onto rock platforms.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the region has had more than 700mm of rain in the first three months of this year – Already more than half the annual average rainfall.

“This weather is providing some real challenges for us to manage, and we’re not just talking about long grass in sports fields,” Cr Bradbery said.

“We know this weather is causing potholes on the city’s roads, erosion on our beaches and the pounding waves against rock platforms and cliffs means there is always the possibility of rockfalls and ground movement.

“We ask everyone to avoid going anywhere near rock platforms and headlands over the coming weeks. It’s just not safe. We will continue to take a precautionary approach to preventing community access to public areas on our beaches and headlands when appropriate.’’

The volume of rainfall over the past three months, mean that the city is at an elevated risk of ground movement and Council’s staff are out on the ground monitoring sites.

“If you look at it from a scientific point of view, the rainfall we’ve experienced over the past three months puts us at increased risk of ground movement until early June – even if it stops raining today,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

However, the rain isn’t just causing challenges for parks and roads crews, with three ocean pools regularly closing as they’re unable to draw in fresh, clean sea water, and beaches are currently closed due to the dangerous conditions.

“The staff at Thirroul, the Continental and Port Kembla pool are working through some particularly difficult conditions, and they are doing their best to open the pools when they can,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

“The sea and swell conditions, combined with the water quality from runoff, means that the sea water they’re drawing in does not look appealing at all. The team will continue to monitor the water quality over the weekend.

“The beaches, too, are unsafe with the large seas, swells and high tides. Council lifeguards will continue to assess the conditions over the weekend as to whether it’s safe to put up the flags.”

In Helensburgh, meanwhile, staff are working on short, medium and long-term solutions to manage some ground erosion to Helensburgh Cemetery’s access road and near a number of grave sites. The graves are up to 120 years old, and the rainwater has washed away the sandy topsoil alongside the site’s sandstone borders.

Temporary barriers to prevent people from driving along the internal access road to this section of the cemetery have been put in place, and warning tape has been placed around grave sites. Star pickets have been used to underpin any impacted grave sites in the Roman Catholic Section, and sandbags have been placed to divert water away from the area. Once the weather improves, Council will replace the eroded soil on the road to repair it and provide access to this section of the cemetery.

Long-term options will consider ways to preserve the grave sites, and provide road access to this section of the cemetery into the future. At each stage the options will consider the site’s geology, and how people move through the site. Engineers are currently investigating the site’s existing swale and considering whether this is sufficient, or if other solutions around water diversion are needed. To reduce the risk of further damage to the site the weather needs to clear before any permanent works can be undertaken.

“We’re very mindful that seeing erosion in a resting site like Helensburgh’s bush cemetery can raise a really emotional response for some people, and we’re conscious of the of the heritage value of this site,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

“We have staff on site looking at short term ways to protect this area as we look at how best to preserve and care for it in the long term.’’


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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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