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Fremantle beaches suffer further erosion in weekend storms that hit Perth and WA

By Nicolas Perpitch, Monday May 28, 2018 - 18:19 EST
ABC image
Port Beach has been eroding for years. - ABC

Weekend storms have caused severe beach erosion at Fremantle's Port Beach, with the ocean taking large chunks out of a car park, collapsing walkways and sand dunes and exposing potentially hazardous metal and wooden poles at the water line.

Industrial debris and rocks — dumped there from port-related infrastructure over the decades — lies in the shallows along the reclaimed coastal stretch.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said the council, which is responsible for the land to the high water mark, was working with the Port Authority and several government departments to solve the problem.

"This is the worst … certainly in my living memory," Dr Pettitt said.

"And it's a real problem in the sense that we're starting to get key infrastructure eaten away into."

The council has closed Port and Sandtracks beaches in the short-term to keep people safe from the uncovered debris.

The Port Authority said there were old pipes that were part of an oil company fuel storage depot at Port Beach, but it is not clear if the poles now sticking out of the sand are linked to that.

The council plans to send workers to grind down the poles when the tide drops.

Heading into the water at Sandtracks for a surf today, Michael Italiano said it was a calculated risk.

"If I were to land on a bit of industrial waste, I'd still be pretty annoyed considering it's in the water," he said.

Swimmers, surfers and other beach users have noticed more and more exposed rocks and debris in recent times, with reports of a woman taken to hospital after being struck by a rock in the shallows.

Erosion a longstanding problem

The coastal erosion at Port Beach has long been known. In May 2003, a severe storm caused significant damage to roads and other infrastructure and more than 10 metres of erosion.

The following year, a Department of Planning and Infrastructure study on coastal erosion at Port Beach found Sandtracks was eroding at a rate of about two metres per year and Port Beach by 0.8 metres per year, while Leighton Beach was growing.

It said Port Beach had previously been expanding, mainly because of 10 million cubic tonnes of dredge material dumped along the shoreline and further offshore between 1890 and 1970.

"This dredge material has been moving onshore and providing an artificial supply of sand to Port Beach for many years. This sand feed has now stopped," the report said.

"This erosion trend is expected to continue. This will progressively reduce beach amenity and leave car parks and existing buildings increasingly vulnerable to storm erosion."

Coastal engineer Stuart Barr helped write the 2004 report and said Port Beach was particularly vulnerable to the first storm of the year, when the beach is already narrow after summer.

"They have a particular challenge at Port Beach because the buffers are so low, the distance from the beach to the carpark is very small," Mr Barr said.

He said in the long-term, the solution involved a combination of protecting some areas, ongoing monitoring, and replacing sand that has been eroded to keep the buffer.

Remedial action expensive

In Busselton, the council puts extra sand in vulnerable areas before a storm hits to reduce the erosion.

But there was a hard choice to make because groynes and seawalls were expensive and came at a cost to amenities, he said.

"It becomes a very difficult decision between protecting assets, like the car parks, knowing they can in the longer term reduce the beach," Mr Barr said.

Fremantle council said in the mid-term it would remove the industrial debris at Port and Sandtracks Beaches.

In the long-term, Dr Pettitt said seawalls and groynes were a last resort, and it was important to acknowledge severe erosion would become a more regular event due to rising sea levels.

"[We need to] have a managed retreat, so we can retain the beach, and hopefully put some systems in place where some of the natural sand replenishment can be retained better than it has been obviously when storms like this hit," he said.

A Fremantle Port Authority spokeswoman said it had agreed to help with "immediate management issues".

She said the authority had supported two grant applications by the City of Fremantle to the Department of Transport — one to identify ways to prevent potential future erosion, and the second to put in place a monitoring plan.


© ABC 2018

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