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Councils’ coastal risk: study points to resource shortage

Noosa is using 3D modelling to implement coastal management programs.

As Queensland councils spearhead programs to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels, new research warns some local authorities lack capacity to manage coastal risks.

After receiving half a million dollars from the State Government’s QCoast2100 program, Noosa Council is one of a number of councils that is implementing coastal management programs through the use of 3D modelling.

The Whitsunday Regional Council (WRC) is another local government that has been able to undertake sea level rise modelling to identify the impacts of coastal hazards on the community as part of QCoast2100.

Adam Folkers, manager of health, climate and the environment at WRC, said the council had few resources to identify and manage coastal hazards prior to the program.

The Whitsunday and Noosa Councils are among 27 projects funded by the $12 million coastal adaptation program led by the Queensland Government which aims to address this disparity in access to the resources required to implement long-term coastal hazard mitigation strategies.

Subathra Ramachandram, program coordinator of QCoast2100, said the program tackles resource limitations between councils.

“$12 million state funding for coastal hazard adapt planning is unprecedented. We’ve never got this amount of money to undertake coastal planning for local governments,” she said.

Resources to manage risks

New research has hailed the QCoast2100 program as the first “proactive” role for the state government in providing councils with resources to address coastal hazards.

The study, published in the journal Marine Policy last month, warned that less densely populated councils may not have the resources to manage coastal risks.

It also cautioned that coastal protections may be diluted by pressure to develop in sought-after areas.

The research, which traced climate changed adaptation policies in state legislation and local planning frameworks across a 25-year period, found that the onus of assessing the risks of coastal inundation on vulnerable properties has shifted from the state to local authorities and the private sector, with most of the coastal management instruments “anchored in planning legislation.”

Dr Jan Warnken, co-author of the paper, said there were benefits to a regional approach to coastal management that involves greater integration of coastal management based on both state and local consultation.

“We felt in some areas it would be more pertinent to have a regional plan developed by local authorities assisted by the state government with more concrete directives about relevant and important aspects of coastal management,” Dr Warnken told Government News.

Small councils “lack the expertise”

The research raised concern that less densely populated councils might lack the expertise and capacity to keep up with coastal risk management.

Assessments of the risks of sea level rises require complex data and modelling and “relevant expertise” to project future scenarios , which may be difficult for councils to source, Dr Warnken said. 

“This leaves local authorities with an even greater need of reliable and yet affordable scientific and legal tools, to effectively deal with these risks,” he said.

Tensions in sought-after areas

The research also said there is a “political struggle” in integrating coastal management policies in sought-after coastal areas, where coastal developments are in high demand.

Dr Warnken described the integration of coastal management into local planning instruments as a “double-edged sword,” saying while they promote local risk management they also potentially cause coastal management to be “overshadowed by concerns about development and short-term prosperity interests.”

The research found that over 25 years of coastal planning legislation there has been a “seesawing” of interests between coastal management legislation and general planning instruments.  

Dr Warnken said that the Coast2100 program “provides a systematic guideline to assist local governments in analysing coastal hazard impacts” and is significant in supporting councils with risk assessments.

Nonetheless he said greater consideration of coastal zone management across councils is needed, including a more “practical approach” to implementing coastal management into existing planning frameworks.

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