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Call to arms for Hunter residents to rally to save Stockton beach

PLEA FOR HELP: The inaugural Stockton beach red line rally was held in February 2020 to raise awareness about the suburb's beach erosion crisis. A second rally will be held on Sunday, July 17, at Stockton breakwater from 10am. Picture: Marina Neil

STOCKTON Community Group is asking residents from across the Hunter to join a rally on Sunday to raise awareness of the suburb's worsening beach erosion crisis.

It's been more than two years since the inaugural Stockton beach red line rally attracted thousands of people from as far as the Upper Hunter, who descended on the foreshore wearing red and carrying campaign placards.

Stockton Community Group member and rally organiser Willow Forsyth said the community had had enough of band-aid solutions and inaction on the peninsula's ongoing erosion woes.

Ms Forsyth urged residents from across the region to attend Sunday's rally to send a clear message to City of Newcastle and the NSW government that it was time they worked together to agree on a clear timeline to get sand back on the beach.

A disaster management expert, Ms Forsyth described the state of the beach as "critical" after more sand was stripped from the coastline during storms last week.

"The thing that scares me is the invisible risk," she said. "The risk of storm surge inundation is very real."

Deputy Premier Paul Toole, who heads to Deputy Premier's Stockton Beach Taskforce, said that he was well aware the community wants the coastline restored.

"That's why the NSW government has been working to provide City of Newcastle with valuable technical advice, guidance and support to identify the best possible short and long-term solutions," he said.

"There is no quick fix, and we have always said we will lend our technical expertise and advice to City of Newcastle to identify and work through the available options."

CRIPPLING: Storms ripped more sand from Stockton beach last week.

The Newcastle Herald reported last month that work on a critical offshore sand nourishment plan to place an initial 2.4 million cubic metres of sand on the beach has been stalled due to a disagreement over who should be responsible for the project.

City of Newcastle has been at loggerheads with the NSW government for more than two years, unable to resolve a dispute over who should apply for a mining licence to extract the sand.

Council wants the state to take responsibility claiming it should develop a model for all NSW councils facing coastal erosion issues, which would provide "significant efficiencies and economies of scale".

The NSW government is urging Newcastle council to apply for the licence and prepare a development application for the works, solely focused on Stockton, with assistance from state department experts.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, who is a member of the Deputy Premier's Stockton Beach Taskforce, said he was "sick of the talking" about the mining licence.

"I just want the licence application done and sand back on the beach," Mr Crakanthorp said.

After decades of denials, it is now widely accepted that the crippling erosion is caused by the Newcastle harbour breakwaters, which are state assets, and deepening of the shipping channel.

The breakwaters stop the longshore drift of sand from the south to the north, that used to bring about 41,000 cubic metres of sand annually to Stockton beach.

There is a large buildup of sand on Nobbys Beach containing more than 32 million cubic metres, while the Stockton side has lost 14 million cubic metres over the years.

Stockton used to have sand dunes of more than 100 metres from Mitchell St to the surf. Now seawalls are the only thing protecting the road and houses.

NO GO ZONE: Blocked access to the beach from Stockton breakwater.

City of Newcastle has spent more than $10 million combating erosion at Stockton and its 2021-22 budget allocated a further $7.775 million towards immediate risk and ongoing management.

At the same time, Hunter Water is continuing its $6.7 million project at the northern end of the beach, near Corroba Oval, to contain an historic landfill site that has been exposed by erosion.

The NSW government confirmed it recently applied for a federal government grant from the Coastal and Estuarine Risk Mitigation Program, which provides funds to assist communities to tackle disasters relating to coastal hazards.

It's understood the application, worth $6.6 million, is being sought to dredge 300,000 cubic metres of sand from the entrance of Newcastle Harbour to place on Stockton beach as another temporary solution.

This would be in addition to the annual 25,000 cubic metres of sand dredged from the harbour by the Port of Newcastle and dumped off Stockton coast to assist with sand renourishing.

But it's a drop in the ocean of what is needed.

Experts estimate between 1.8 million and 4.5 million cubic metres of sand is required to renourish the beach from the breakwater to the Hunter Water land north of Corroba Oval.

According to City of Newcastle's consultants Bluecoast Engineers, the beach is losing 112,000 cubic metres of sand each year.

Stockton beach sand sourcing options.

Several long-term solutions have been identified as set out below.

1. Marine sand, offshore from Stockton: The NSW government carried out exploratory work to investigate sand sources off the beach and found three potentially suitable sand bodies.

Under current legislation, offshore sand is classified as a mineral and its recovery from NSW coastal waters requires a mining licence.

An exploration licence to identify suitable sand was granted in July 2021, funded from $1 million announced by the NSW government for Stockton beach in March 2020.

The Geological Survey of NSW, in the Department of Regional NSW, identified a 60-square kilometre survey area as the largest nearby offshore sand resource and found three suitable sources, the "inner-shelf plain sand sheet, old barrier sands and Hunter River sands".

The next step is to confirm the appropriate planning approval pathways, including applying for a mining lease to carry out the work.

2. South Arm of Hunter River (Stockton Channel)

This option is contingent on future commercial port expansion infrastructure projects going ahead.

With funding provided under the NSW government's Coastal and Estuary Grants program, Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation (HCCDC) was engaged by City of Newcastle to manage a project to assess the suitability and feasibility of using sand within the South Arm of the Hunter River.

3. North Arm of the Hunter River (Stockton Channel)

Historic studies, which are 20 years old, have revealed a potential sand source in the North Arm of the Hunter River.

This area has historically been less exposed to infrastructure and development than the South Arm, so there is potential for significant sand reserves likely to be suitable for nourishment of Stockton beach.

Residents are asked to wear red and join the rally at Stockton breakwater, in King St, from 10am on Sunday.

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