GKI businesses speak out against 'ludicrous' dune clearing
ESCAVATORS are gradually removing sand dunes on Great Keppel Island's main beach, leaving exposed business owners fearing the worst for when the next cyclone hits.
After successive cyclonic events tore away the sand from GKI's north western Putney Beach, something needed to be done to stop the relentless march of the ocean and save the beach, the nearby Hideaway Bay Resort and the island's fresh water table.
There were three options proposed to fix the situation - putting in pylons, a rock wall or sand bags - with Livingstone Shire Council settling on allowing the Hideaway Bay Resort to pay for the creation of a sand bag wall.
But questions surround the controversial recommendation to take Fisherman beach's sand dunes instead of dredging the sand required to fill the massive ocean buffering geo-fabric textile sand bags protecting Putney Beach.
Outraged locals and businesses owners on the GKI's esplanade, including Tropical Vibes owner Shane Bonney and Island Pizza owner Karen Christie, are desperate to reverse the decision before it was too late.
When a media contingent landed on the island last month to inspect the completed demolition works for GKI resort, owner of Tropical Vibes Mr Bonney approached, pleading for something be done to save his vulnerable business.
"I think it's wrong that they're taking the sand dune from the front of our beach, that's our protection," Mr Bonney said.
"If we get a cyclone to the south of us, you're going to get a strong south-westerly that's going to take this beach out.
He didn't realise that the beach dune sand harvesting activity would come so far south down the beach and another option could have been pursued.
"We were told at a [Livingstone Shire] council meeting that they were actually allowed to dredge but they chose the option of taking the sand dunes and the state government is allowing them to do so," he said.
"They're going to have a dozer on this beach taking sand for the next 40 years. That's not good for tourism.
"Leaving the Esplanade open to disastrous weather for the rest of the businesses on the island."
Mr Bonney said while he wanted Putney Beach to be fixed and the underground water supply protected, the current solution was "wrecking a nice pristine beach to fix a beach where the sand will probably be washed out to sea anyway".
He believed sand dredging in the water in front of Putney Beach was a logical strategy give that it recovered eroded sand and was quickly replaced compared to sand dunes, which took decades to form.
"They could have a pipeline where they take the sand from and keep moving that around," he said.
"I guarantee that ocean would wash that sand in in no time."
Co-owner of another GKI Esplanade business Island Pizza's Karen Christie said while she understood the need to save Putney Beach, removing the vegetated dunes not only increased their business's vulnerability to cyclones, rising sea water, king tides and also had a detrimental impact on local wildlife.
"They're taking out all the spinifex covered sand dunes to fill sand bags, they're habitats, they had intrinsic value and were aesthetically pleasing " Ms Christie said.
"We've been doing well documented community projects for 20 years, funded by council, doing planting and erosion fencing to actually get Fisherman's Beach restored after a cyclone in 1992 that took out all the dunes and we got sea water inundation.
"It's taken a long time for those dunes to come back because they needed help because there was too much beach traffic for them to repair without a bit of help."
Ms Christie said it was "ludicrous" that state and local governments would overturn what was going right on the island at their beach to fix Putney Beach rather than sourcing the sand from elsewhere.
"There was a viable option, having sands dredged from the mid tide marks and just blowing it into the bags," she said.
"The whole beach has changed shape. What they should have done was dredge back all the sand they collected in 2015 [which had washed away from Putney Beach] and blow that into the bags."
She said this option wasn't pursued because LSC thought they wouldn't get a permit from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park due to the problems encountered by the dredging undertaken at Gladstone harbour.
Standing next to a white stake, Ms Christie indicated the extensive sand dune area which could be taken.
"Out the front it's just started. They've taken a couple of meters of sand already but if you look back towards the spit, you can see where it's all gone," she said.
Great Keppel Island Hideaway and Keppel Konnections Group Manager Kelly Harris said they would have spent $1.5 million to save their resort by the time the sand bag project completed at the start of October.
"It's been a big relief for us but it's been frustrating that it has been taking so long," Mr Harris said.
He said their business didn't have involvement in the development of the sand bagging plans.
"That decision was made before my time, however, I believe LSC commissioned external expertise to work out the best (least detrimental) option," he said.
"I know International Coastal Management (ICM) developed the plans, who were field leaders in coastal engineering in this part of the world and they came back with those plans which went through all the government authorities and were approved.
"Then they issued us with those plans and said this is what you can do."
Mr Harris acknowledged that the quickest ways they could have filled the bags was via dredging but it was his understanding that there was a blanket rule that there would be no more dredging in the Great Barrier Reef marine Park.
"Hence why we're doing it a different way," he said.
Addressing Ms Christie's concerns regarding the impacts of dune removal on local wildlife, he said they used wildlife spotters and retained a 10cm layer of vegetation and seeds were stockpiled, to be replanted at the completion of the project.