Our Frankston foreshore is at risk and why FBA is so concerned

The following is a summary of FBA’s latest submission on the proposed Coastguard building, safe refuge and breakwater at Olivers Hill, presented at Council Meeting 3rd September 2017.

The community was given 3 days to prepare a submission on the above developments in the Council’s Agenda.

FBA support the volunteer Coastguard and its endeavour to save lives, however, as a Council representing its community we expect some sort of compromise between coastguard service and the preservation of Frankston’s most popular swimming beach – the beach and the foreshore is our greatest asset.

There has been no compromise. The Coastguard Executive Summary Risk Mitigation acknowledged by Council, in its Agenda, states that the key risks relate to understanding “the impact of the breakwater on the coastline and sand movements.”

Council is taking no action to mitigate these risks; this is a major gap and raises questions about the focus and management of the planning and approval process.

Council in consultation with the Coastguard over a 12 month period has ignored the key risks. There is no evidence other options were considered. The rationale provided for the relocation is:

  • the building on the foreshore is in poor condition and no longer fit for purpose
  • Olivers Hill is the only location that offers an opportunity in Frankston

FBA submits that the Coastguard and FCC ought to seek options in support of the Coastguard which will not interfere with coastal processes by using its current location – demolishing and rebuilding and mooring the large rescue boat on the lee side of Frankston pier, thus providing a quick response to emergencies. There is also the vacant information centre available.

These options give the Coastguard a more visible community presence and an opportunity to engage with the Yacht Club rescue activities and with people who are using the Bay.

Historically, all government and private investigations that have been completed at Olivers Hill have insisted that anything to do with coastal processes and structures going out into the Bay must include numerical and physical modelling and the Council and the Minister for Planning has agreed with this through Amendments to the Frankston Planning Scheme –

1999 Panel Report, and the 2003 Minister’s Assessment, C15;

2004 C30 Amendment;

2008 Priority Development Panel Report and the 2009 Planning Scheme Amendment, C50.

FBA’s experience with the history of similar structures in Port Phillip Bay and failure to predict the effects of breakwaters, highlights the need to ensure sand movement is understood and addressed in particular to the north of the proposal; effectively, numerical and more importantly physical modelling.

All the information FBA holds regarding the development proposed at Olivers Hill is the Council’s Agenda 3rd September 2017 and a Scope statement 20th October 2017.  Both of these are inadequate:

The Council’s Agenda 3rd September 2017 documents Federal Government funding $500,000 (which has not been signed off), hydrological plans, concept plans, staged development of a new coastguard building and safe haven at Olivers Hill, but lacks funding for physical and numerical modeling, which should take place prior to the above development.

It is of great concern that despite the ‘key risk’ being identified as ‘understanding the impact of the breakwater on the coastline and sand movements,’ there is no action to quantify what will occur.

Council in the Agenda states indicative costs:

“$145,000 for a Hydrological Study and concept design of breakwater (utilising part of the %500K Federal Government grant currently awaiting approval);

$15,000 for a Geotechnical Report for new building location;

$14,000 for a Concept design for new building.

The anticipated total project cost of the relocation of the building carpark and landscaping….is in the order of $.5M. In addition, the total cost of the breakwater is estimated to be …$3M.”

Council also recommended “wholesale reconstruction of existing HQ.”

Gillian Kay, Frankston Council’s Director Community Development, 20 October 2017 emailed the following scope to community members who attended a meeting 18th October 2017 –

The project is for the development of plans through hydrographic surveys and modelling and part construction of a breakwater in front of the Oliver’s Hill foreshore boat ramp.  The breakwater is envisaged to be constructed as a rock wall with a road on top for emergency vehicle access and includes lighting and CCTV.  It will provide safe refuge for small recreation craft and police boats in heavy weather and a secure permanent mooring in 2 – 3 metres depth for the Frankston Volunteer Coast Guard rescue vessel.  It will also enable all weather launching facilities for recreational vessels in the southern region of Port Phillip and include pedestrian access for visitors with views across Port Phillip Bay.  Pedestrian access will also allow for fishing, diving and other activities off the breakwater. 

The above scope provides sufficient information for the experts to collect data and undertake modelling of conditions that will inform the development of concept plans.” Gillian Kay.

What is of great concern for FBA and the community is that the coastguard proposal will require a very large road going out to sea in 2-3 metres of water without, we believe, giving consideration of the effect this large dense structure will have on the sediment (sand) movement and the loss of our sandy beaches.

FBA sought advice as follows:

Comment provided in response to the project scope by a geomorphologist states:

“I would be very worried by the vagueness of the Scope as stated by Gillian Kay.

It states ‘… development of plans through hydrographic surveys and modelling … ‘ ‘Hydrography’ by all definitions (geological and dictionary) means ‘the science that deals with the physical aspects of waters on the earth’s surface, esp. the compilation of navigational charts of bodies of water’. It does not refer specifically to the effects and impacts of moving water on sediment or other features (natural or otherwise) of a coast. An important matter for any survey would be the impact of a solid barrier structure on sand movement, erosion etc., especially a barrier long enough to get into deep water (2–3 m is mentioned). That requires study by a coastal geomorphologist who has had experience in such structures — the Victorian coast has had numerous cases where structures have produced adverse results, especially with sand depletion or accumulation in the ‘wrong’ places. The average engineer does not have this expertise.

It then mentions modelling. What sort of modelling? Again, it takes a coastal specialist to do this properly. Is it expected that the survey will investigate previous studies that have been done in this situation, or others that can be regarded as comparable (which depends on all sorts of factors such as orientation, weather patterns, seasonal changes, tidal ranges etc.).

I disagree with Gillian Kay’s statement: The above scope provides sufficient information for the experts to collect data and undertake modelling of conditions that will inform the development of concept plans. It gives no indication of the potential issues that would need to be addressed, and the level of investigation that would be required.

I would also be concerned that it refers to ‘part construction of a breakwater’. It would be quite inappropriate to start a construction without a final plan based on thorough preliminary investigation.”

The project, with the support of the Councillors, risks destroying an unspoiled natural environment used by 1000’s of people. FCC does not have the understanding of coastal processes and it appears it has no intention of carrying out coastal modelling, PRIOR to the other studies it proposes.

Numerical and physical modelling is estimated to cost under $500K.  Compare this with the cost of the proposed development and the impact on our foreshore and beaches.

FBA took Leon’s advice and enquired whether KRB (the engineering company Council has commissioned) a geomorphologist on its team –

We confirmed the following:

KBR has a Coastal Geomorphologist within their team who can be consulted as required to ensure they have a good understanding of both water based and land based coastal processes. The report council is intending to engage KBR for will include reviewing reports done by other consultants and state government departments over previous years as well as undertaking their own analysis on historical and current conditions of the shoreline, dunes and vegetation. Combining historical and current land and water data with the latest hydrographic modelling this will inform their component of the report which will assess what effect the installation of a breakwater is likely to have on the hydrography, beaches and dune systems along Frankston’s coastline.

This statement appears to be ambiguous in the sense that consulting the geomorphologist will be a minor study – the Hydrological study is the primary area; it is not a littoral process associated with sand movement arising from effects of currents, waves and tides and in particular in the context of changing climate conditions.

In view of the risks to our beaches and foreshore, FBA approached Neil Blake, the Baykeeper, regarding the large breakwater and boat refuge at Olivers Hill.  Neil offered to join with FBA and conduct a numerical exercise to develop a profile method for monitoring change in beach and intertidal sand surface that records the surface level of sand across Frankston beach and intertidal zone over 12 months in 4 quarterly sessions

This study was developed with a geomorphologist from the University of Melbourne.  We commenced our profiling on 21st October 2017 and will continue quarterly   Neil has already completed 12 monthly profiling of McCrae and Middle Park beaches and this will continue for another 12 months.  The minimum for collecting data for numerical modelling is 12 months.

Another aspect to be considered is the advice of Captain Frank Hart, Master Mariner regarding the planned location of the safe refuge, which will be exposed to the dominant onshore winds.  There is no shelter available near-by.  If yachts, small boats are unable to enter the boat harbour in strong onshore winds there is no suitable alternatives – in all designs to date the problems of a dangerous lee shore have not been recognised and have been ignored.

In view of all the above facts, to call the planned harbour a safe refuge is misleading and inaccurate in adverse weather conditions. In such conditions Olivers Hill because of its exposed location, is a place where a skipper should think long and hard before choosing to lose sea room and head towards the harbour to seek refuge.

Under such conditions, Frankston will be attracting boats at sea into a dangerous situation.

Finally, Frankston Council needs to understand the risks to their major recreational activity area in Frankston and steadfastly protect it.  The long sweep of shoreline from Olivers Hill through to Seaford is unparalleled as a natural beachscape and should not be destroyed through inadequate planning processes.

Frankston ratepayers will not thank Council if it burdens them with remedial works in perpetuity.

Image via Herald Sun.

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