SAND has become a precious and fought over commodity, and no more so than near some of Australia’s most expensive and exclusive real estate: Portsea.
At one end of the town, near the iconic pier, sand has disappeared several times over the past decade, starting in 2009 when dredging of the South Channel changed its shape, causing a new, damaging swell to erode a part of the beach near the Portsea Hotel.
With sand trucked in at great expense to taxpayers, the beach was restored, but not to its former glory, or permanently.
A couple of years later the imported sand had gone, revealing an underlying reef and requiring expensive sandbags to protect further incursions by the sea.
Mornington Peninsula Shire and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are now looking at spending millions of dollars to build a rock groyne to capture sand dredged from the nearby seabed (“Rock groyne ‘key’ to $20m Portsea beach plan” The News 29/6/20).
About 2.5 kilometres further west, sand has also become a valuable commodity, but this time it is a build up of the fine grains that are enabling an adjoining land owner to claim part of the beach, increasing both the size and worth of his property.
Trucking magnate Lindsay Fox has successfully been down that track before, being given approval by the land titles office on Christmas Eve 2013 to extend his property boundary onto Point King Beach by about 45 metres.
Mr Fox made his claim, based on an ancient law of England never tested in Australia, after a build-up of sand saw the high water mark move even further out to sea from his foreshore property boundary.
This interpretation of common law known as the “doctrine of accretion” enables boundaries to be varied if adjoining land is subject to “natural” rather than “artificial” change.
In the six and a half years since Mr Fox was allowed to extend the boundary of his not insignificant holding near Point King, the sand has again built up and he is again seeking permission to move his boundary towards the receding high tide level.
It has been estimated the “new” land involved covers 4700 square metres.
Mornington-based planner Watsons is seeking the boundary change application on behalf of Mr Fox’s family companies.
In a separate move, Mr Fox is understood to be challenging planning regulations that, after being changed in 2014, limited the uses of the land within his extended boundary.
Shire councillors last week ordered CEO John Baker to “urgently review” any applications to the Supreme Court by Mr Fox “or any related person against the Planning Minister [Richard Wynne]” or any applications made to the Titles Office relating to the boundaries of the Fox property at Point King. Mr Baker is to report his findings to council’s 11 August meeting.
Meanwhile, debate still surrounds why sand can build up at one Portsea beach while disappearing from another. Channel deepening has scientific credibility, but some people still hold the belief that it is a natural occurrence.
Whatever the reason, sand is proving a costly commodity for taxpayers and a possible financial windfall for others.