Portsea Beach

Reinforcing the sand bag walls

Rock wall

The Nepean Ratepayers Association (NRA) and the Portsea Coastal Advisory Group (PCAG ) have been representing the public interest over the past 5 years by maintaining pressure on DELWP, and the State Government, initially to find the cause of the ocean swells that first appeared in 2009, and secondly to find a solution to divert the ocean swells so that the beach could be re-established.

The following is a personal letter from Colin Watson dated the 11 September to DELWP. 

Hi Stephen,

I trust this note finds you well and staying safe. Like many people of my age, we have never experienced anything like this current situation in our lives.  But having said that, life has to go along and we need to work around this pandemic and not make excuses that it is impeding future plans and decisions.

The purpose of me contacting you now is to get some clarity about what’s happening with the Portsea front beach restoration works, thereby enabling me to keep the many members of the Nepean Ratepayers' Association and local residents fully apprised.

Whilst we fully realise that the State Government is currently experiencing enormous financial pressures managing its budgetary requirements, we do however specifically recall the commitment made by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change made that you would "...work with the Mornington Peninsula Shire to return the Portsea front beach to the condition that it was about 11 years ago".

Since the time that sandbag wall was repaired, we have not seen one inch of progress toward the creation of a plan to honour the Minister's commitment and achieve the agreed outcome of a fully restored beach.  Right now, we have nothing to get excited about in the future and, more particularly, the broader community, has taken the view that now that the wall is finished both the Minister and your Department, is just walking away from the Portsea commitment. 

As a result, I am proposing what I see as two (2) reasonable steps that should be considered and accepted by the Minister and your Department, which will then be supported by a commitment from the Minster to deliver during the course of the calendar year 2021.  These steps are outlined as follows:      

  1. Despite the current environment that we are enduring, this local community, together with the Mornington Peninsula Shire, requires the Minister to reiterate the State Government's commitment that the cost of the restoration work (approximately $20M) will be funded for the only viable option to bring the beach back to its former status;  namely, the near shore reconfiguration dredging. Ideally we would want this to happen within the next State budget period.
  2. Once this commitment is given, we request that the preparation of the relevant Environmental Effects Statement be undertaken immediately.  We do not wish to wait a further one or two years of "budget processes" for the money to be made available, and then wait another year (or so) for the EES to be undertaken. We see no reason why this task cannot commence immediately, given the financial impact of this body of work would not be overly severe from a Departmental financing perspective. 

In the disappointing event that the State Government elects not to agree to the aforementioned steps, then we will request that the  Portsea Marina Development  concept is placed firmly on the table for discussion, as early research confirms that this project would go a long way - if not completely -  to resolving the Portsea front beach problem.  Additionally, we are aware of a World class company in this field interested in pursuing the Portsea Marina Development project.

Stephen, notwithstanding that you are now "on the other side of the fence" in the Portsea front beach restoration matter, we both know that had the State Government taken full responsibility for this issue back in 2009 and admitted that the Channel Deepening Project had caused the loss of the Portsea front beach, instead of "doing everything they could to deny it", we could have used a small percentage of the Environmental Bond ( $100M ) that was specifically put in place by the Port of Melbourne Authority as a condition of the CDP Planning Permit granted by the then Minister for Planning, Mr Justin Madden, in case something like the very thing that actually happened at Portsea , may have occurred around Port Phillip Bay as a result of the CDP.

As you are only too well aware, the State Government relied upon the findings of a report from Cardno Lawson and Treloar, which we have since exposed as being fundamentally flawed. Additionally, we then had the then Director of the Office of the Environmental Monitor (Mr Don Hough) in a report to the Auditor General (Port of Melbourne Channel Deepening Project. Achievement of Objectives November 2012 ) state that there was "no evidence of any environmental damage around Port Phillip Bay as a result of the dredging". Unfortunately for the general public, Mr Hough held the blatantly conflicting roles of not only being the Environmental Monitor for the CDP, but also the Department's spokesman for the project!  Further, for the two years leading up to his report to the Auditor General, he had attended Portsea on many occasions and also advised the general public that the sudden erosion had nothing to do with the dredging; "nothing to see here" he concluded! This lack of transparency (or perhaps honesty?) and promotion of misleading information by the Environmental Monitor resulted in the Environmental Bond being released from escrow and returned to the Port of Melbourne Authority in early 2013. We strongly suspect that in the event that the Environmental Bond was called upon - in part or in full - the Department of Treasury and Finance would have been 'actively involved' in that process, given that the Port of Melbourne Authority would not have had that level of liquidity / free cashflow for support such a claim. As such, the Central Agencies of the State Government were well aware of ramifications of a claim upon the Environmental Bond.

So today, 11 years on, we are presented with exactly the same issue that evolved in 2009 - which is now actually expanding both easterly and westerly of the Portsea Pier - with your Department having already spent close on $10-to-$12M on 'band aid' solutions, but the underlying problem still exists. To make matters worse, this estimate of $10-to-$12M excludes your Department's staffing costs which, we can only imagine, would amount to thousands of man hours in the management of the short-term remedial works, attending numerous meetings, briefing the Minister, etc., over these past 11 years.

I reiterate if there had have been more (some!) transparency from the State Government back in 2009,  instead of running away and trying to cover it up, it could have been fixed before the Environmental Bond expired for about the same money the department has spent to date on band aid solutions, and now we need to spend another $20M on top.  It reeks of gross mismanagement of taxpayers funds.   Any responsible Government could have easily said back in 2009 that we have an unforeseen problem which has been caused as a by-product of a very large infrastructure project that has huge economic benefits for the State. All the risk assessment studies for the project didn’t identify this issue. The Government could have apologised, fixed the problem and the broader community would have readily accepted that explanation as it made common sense then... and still does!  Instead, we have had 11 years of lies and deceit at the highest level and we aren’t copping it anymore.

I have read the Premier's recent media statements that, "to get Victoria going again economically", the State Government intends to actively promote infrastructure projects that are 'shovel ready' with tourism-related infrastructure a key plank of that strategy.  Surely, given the important position that Portsea plays in the development of tourism within the Southern Mornington Peninsula, funding for the Portsea Front Beach restoration works would be eligible under that program? Further, a 'fast track' of the Portsea Marina Development concept would also not be inconsistent with the Premier's statements that would generate economic benefit for the State of Victoria and, clearly based upon the Minister for Planning's recent approval of a development proposal in Prahran "because of the jobs that it would create", your Department clearly has the capacity to 'get things done'... if it really wants to!I

look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards

Colin Watson
Portsea 3944
0412 998177

Major repairs to Portsea beach seawall. Project Update, April 2020

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Portsea Beach Rebuilding the Sandbag Walls

Engaging the Nepean Ward in supporting a sustainable community