The City of Fremantle is moving to permanently “retreat” buildings from Port Beach after the stretch of coastline was devastated by yesterday’s intense storm to hit WA.

The City of Fremantle is moving to permanently “retreat” buildings from Port Beach after the stretch of coastline was devastated by yesterday’s intense storm to hit WA.
Key points:

  • A temporary sea wall saved Port Beach buildings at from damage in the storm
  • Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt says a permanent solution is too expensive
  • Experts say coastal erosion is set to worsen due to climate change

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said the City of Fremantle and the State Government were speeding up plans to relocate structures as rising sea levels and erosion consistently impacted the beach.
A temporary sea wall built earlier this year at a cost of $400,000 protected a restaurant and some surf club buildings at Port Beach as the storm hit yesterday.
But more exposed parts of Port Beach saw the full impact of the wild seas as the shore all but disappeared, followed by about 10 metres of car park also swallowed by the wild swell.
Sections of the Port Beach car park were swept away by the storm.(ABC News: West Matteeussen)
“Frankly we won’t be rebuilding those kinds of things, what we’ll do is we’ll set back some barricades and put in some protections to make it safe,” Dr Pettitt told ABC Radio Perth.
“Ultimately though, the challenge is that unless you just keep building rock walls further and further south and north, we are going to have to let some assets be lost.
“That’s the kind of hard choices we’re making at the moment around which ones to keep and which ones to lose.”
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Temporary wall protected buildings
Dr Pettitt said if the temporary wall, designed to last at least five years, had not been installed it was likely buildings would have been lost at Port Beach yesterday.
“We put that in place very quickly just a couple of months ago, realising that if we didn’t the cafe/restaurant there, the changerooms and the surf club annexe would have all been under threat,” he said.
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“And I think the storm yesterday shows we would have lost at least one of those if we hadn’t have put the rock wall in place.”
But the mayor said while the measures had worked, they would not last and long-term permanent rock walls and other measures were prohibitively expensive, of questionable efficacy and were an eyesore.
“With these kinds of rock walls you create a pretty unattractive environment,” he said.
Port Beach was already eroded even before this week’s storm.(ABC News: James Carmody)
“One of the great things about WA is you have proper beaches with sand and you don’t need to clamber over rock walls to get to them.
“One of the things we’re now working on with the State Government is how do we actually move that cafe, move the changerooms and the like, to actually step those back properly so that you don’t need to have these permanent rock walls in place.
“I think we would rather have white beaches, and even if you’ve got to walk a little way from a cafe to the beach’s edge, I think that’s a better outcome.”
Port Beach is close to the Fremantle container port.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
Geraldton beaches escape widespread damage
Beaches along the length of the WA coast were impacted by erosion during the storm yesterday, and many communities are facing a similar conundrum to Fremantle.
Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said sand nourishment and sand bags had protected the local beaches in the Mid West city, about 400 kilometres north of Perth, although there was some damage.
“We’ve seen storm events like this absolutely annihilate those beaches, and while there has been some scouring and some erosion, it’s nowhere near what we’ve seen in the past,” he said.
But Pages Beach experienced inundation almost to the main road and Mr Van Styn said it was an indication of what could happen in the future.
Pages Beach in Geraldton was inundated in the wake of the storm.(ABC News: Zachary Bruce)
“It’s been identified by the city now for some time as a place for an inundation risk,” he said. “This goes to show what we’ve predicted and what we’ve modelled is very possibly able to happen
Hours from a much bigger erosion disaster
Ocean Institute of UWA coastal oceanography Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi said in many cases protecting assets built right next to the beach would prove too expensive.
He said the impact of the storm yesterday was just a few hours shy of having a much more disastrous affect.
About 10 metres of the carpark at Port Beach was lost as the storm battered the coast.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
“The peak of the storm happened at low tide, so that meant that the water level controlled by the tide was at a minimum,” he said.
“If it happened 12 hours later, coinciding with high tide, we would have had a much bigger issue we would have had a lot of flooding along the whole of the low-lying areas.”
Professor Pattiaratchi said coastal erosion would become an even more pressing issue in years to come.
“The climate change and the sea level rise doesn’t happen overnight, it happens slowly over a long period,” he said.
Port Beach was hammered by high seas during the storm.(ABC News: James Carmody)
“But if let’s say we have this exact storm 10 years down the track and it happened at the same time relative to the water level, it would have a much bigger effect because the mean sea level would have increased and the waves are acting higher up on the beach.”
Restaurant owner wants rock-solid solution
The owner of Coast restaurant and cafe on Port Beach, Ian Hutchinson, has advocated for a more permanent solution, such as a granite sea wall.
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He said nearby Rous Head was protected by granite armoured rocks, which were very durable.
“That’s rock-solid, there’s no dangers over there, they should have continued that wall around here,” he said.
Swimmer Julie Isbill, one of the “polar bear” group that swims at Port Beach daily, supported Mr Hutchinson’s plan to protect the beach from further erosion.
“I think it’s absolutely devastating to be honest,” Ms Isbill said.
“It gets used by hundreds of people of all ages of all walks of life and just no other word for it really rather than devastating.”