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Coastal erosion turns Canterbury property into beach

Posted on July 20, 2022

The lifestyle block owner has lost three-quarters of his 24-hectare plot to coastal erosion. He’s now calling on the regional council Environment Canterbury (ECan) to help.

The landowner said ECan has failed to repair a seawall outside his property, which used to hold the waves at bay. The water has now come flooding in, burying his land, and his retirement plans with it.

“The seawall that’s been there for 40-odd years, and held the sea back beautifully, has basically been blown out by the sea over the last two years,” Sanson said.

“It’s covered everything. It’s up to a metre deep if not deeper in a lot of areas.”

The waves typically come up during stormy weather and then recede, leaving behind a trail of sand, gravel and debris.

The saltwater also seeps into the soil, preventing the grass from growing. In one area, entire fence posts had disappeared under the sand.

Sanson said he has lost track of the number of times he has called ECan to ask for help.

“It’s like we don’t exist down here. It’s like the forgotten part of the world,” he said.

“We’re just asking for what any ratepayer really wants, which is a fair go really.”

READ MORE: Who pays to adapt to rising seas? Ardern, Luxon say it’s ‘complex’

Nearby farmer Shannon Donald had also suffered inundation in recent months.

“I’ve got 20 to 30 hectares here unusable at the moment, and that’s been like that for at least a month and a half now,” he said.

“If keeps happening, I don’t actually know what I’m going to be able to do with it, to be honest. What I can put in there? Or even if I can put anything in there at all.”

However, ECan is refusing to repair the seawall. Its river manager Leigh Griffiths told 1News the council does not own land in the area.

“Environment Canterbury doesn’t collect rates to manage coastal erosion, and we don’t fund repairs on private land,” she said in a statement.

“Our long-term monitoring shows coastal erosion is an issue in this area, as well as other parts of Canterbury. This will only be exacerbated as our coast retreats, and our sea-level rises as a result of climate change.”

READ MORE: Kiwis can now see how sea level rise will affect them

Instead, Griffiths indicated the landowners would be left to solve the problem themselves.

“This makes working with district authorities and other stakeholders important for understanding and clarifying what landowners can do to protect their properties, such as through private stopbanks or moving debris,” she said.

But Sanson believes that ECan is in the seawall business when it wants to be. A kilometre-long bank has been constructed up the coast, where ECan contractors were clearing Lake Ellesmere, and is several metres high.

“I don’t understand why they’re building one bank, but not the rest, when they say they’re doing no remedial work on the beach,” he said.

“If they’re not going to do any work because of climate change or whatever they think it might be, or sea rise, then come and pull it down.”

The landowner also argued that a seawall would help to protect the entire area. He believes the sea could eventually reach Lake Ellesmere, causing it to become tidal.

“If that lake becomes tidal, there’s big trouble for everyone, and it needs to be stopped,” he said.

“We need to buy ourselves some time so we can plan for that.”

ECan disputed his comments, saying it had not built a seawall – rather a “pushed up gravel bund”.

“Its sole purpose is to protect deep water within the lake that is needed to open the lake to [the] sea,” their statement read.

The council suggested Sanson could apply for resource consent to build his own private stopbank. It disputed his suggestion that the coastal erosion would eventually reach Lake Ellesmere.

“Environment Canterbury monitors both erosion and accretion along the majority of Canterbury’s coastline,” it said in a statement.

“We consider it unlikely that this landward movement of the beaches in this area will result in Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora and Coopers Lagoon/Muriwai becoming permanently tidal.”

With his options limited and his main asset unusable, Sanson is now having to reassess his retirement.

“It’s pretty gutting, this was our retirement plan, obviously it’s unsaleable now. No one’s going to want to buy it,” he said.

“We’re faced with being here until they carry us out.”

While the two sides are unable to agree on who’s responsible, the waves are coming closer every day,


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