Beach sands run out as storms blow in

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SAND trucked at great expense to Mt Martha Beach North has again “disappeared” after a series of storms.

The sand loss has exposed the seeming flimsy supports on which many of the beach’s 90 bathing boxes sit.

Some of the supports have been wedged with recently cut squares of timber while others teeter precariously on concrete pads.

Many of the spindly frames have been pushed back towards the cliff by either wind or waves or, probably, both. Bolts are bent and timbers cracked.

One bathing box leans backwards while another, set on a level earthen bank, is being undermined and in danger of toppling forward.

The cliff behind the boxes is crumbling and landslides have crashed through a fence erected designed to prevent erosion.

David Katsiakos, the shire’s manager municipal building surveyor, said one box would have to be demolished while another 11 were damaged.

He said the area behind the bathing boxes would remain closed “until further notice”.

Mr Katsiakos said the shire would continue to work with the Department of Environment Land Water Planning (DELWP) on the stability of the cliffs.   

The loss of sand at Mt Martha beach north has become a regular occurrence in the past few decades.  So much so that after one severe storm which saw the loss of dozens of bathing boxes, the government department in charge of the beach told shire not to allow any to be rebuilt.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment said conditions at the beach had changed, making it unstable.

However, political pressure saw then environment minister Cheryl Garbutt overturned the instruction from her department and the bathing box owners were duly issued with permits to rebuild.

Since then, bathing boxes have been renovated, repainted and restumped. Some have been lost in subsequent storms and the sand comes and goes.

In December 2013 Mornington MP David Morris gave parliament an outline of the beach’s recent history.

Mr Morris said the annual winter “migration” of sand from the northern end of the beach to the southern end and the reverse in summer had ended in 2000 when “the rock reef at the northern perimeter of that system sustained severe erosion”.

“Since that time, the substantial movement of sand has been south, and it has not always returned to the north,” he said.

“In the intervening period we have had quite substantial damage to the cliff face. The Esplanade runs fairly close to the edge of the cliff there, and if that damage were to be any more extensive, then obviously the road could be in some difficulty as well. It has not reached that point yet.”

Mr Morris said 12,000 cubic metres of sand was deposited at Mt Martha north beach in 2010 “solved the problem for the time being” but was again being lost in 2013.

A 2004 report by Graham Butler & Associates commissioned by the shire stated that the cultural value of bathing boxes at Mt Martha north “lies with [the] perpetuation of the boat shed type that commenced in the mid-19th century on the colony’s beaches”.

The sheds were also a representation of a specific post World War II phase of growth that saw Mt Martha “move to [a] tourist centre, beach-going Mecca and retirement centre”.

The sheds were a “representation of a comparatively rare building type nationally that, because of the concentration of the type locally, is specifically associated with the shire”.

The bathing boxes also represented “countless memories of family life and beach recreation”.

First published in the Mornington News – 9 August 2016

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