$21M Thames Aquatic Centre Proposal – Will Thames Coromandel Council Comply with the Latest Government Sea Level Rise Guidelines?
A new sub-regional aquatic centre is proposed within Thames Township with a price tag of around $21M. The Thames Coromandel District Council has commissioned a report from Visitor Solutions which nominates three preferred locations – Beach Road opposite Prices Foundry, Rhodes Park, and Airport South at Totara. All of these sites are on the Thames foreshore on land subject to substantial sea flooding under even modest sea-level rise scenarios. Will TCDC comply with new Government coastal hazard sea level rise guidelines which rule out these coastal locations? How come this Report was commissioned without instruction to review and apply these new 2017 Guidelines, the previous 2008 version or all of the other readily available data on the sea flooding threat to these sites?
In recent Newsroom articles, reporter Eloise Gibson has detailed how the Thames-Coromandel District Council has either totally ignored or discounted central government guidance on sea level rise when considering major new coastal greenfield subdivisions, or its own infrastructure projects. I’ve written about this before – here, here, and here. When you read this material it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Council is either mad, dysfunctional or just opportunistic – perhaps all three? Now, this major project is being promoted at three mad locations! By all means consider a new aquatic centre for the District. But please avoid sites which are very likely to be flooded in coming decades and where patrons would have to swim or row a boat long distances to gain entry.
The latest Government Coastal Hazard Guidance published in December 2017 requires Council to consider at least 1.88m sea level rise above the 2005 baseline MSL when assessing major new infrastructure projects. Note the requirement to “avoid hazard risk”. See Category A in the Table. Note also that where the land is subsiding – as it is on the Thames foreshore – this local or relative sea level rise component must be added to this 1.88m figure.
The map shows a water level of 4.0m and is generated from the Regional Council’s coastal flooding simulator. 4.0 m is the indicative water level you get with the current Mean Sea Level of 2.11m – PLUS the H+ Scenario sea level rise “transitional response” of 1.88m out to 2150 as stipulated in the new Guidelines.
All three “preferred” sites plus a huge swathe of surrounding land are drowned by sea flooding when the transitional allowances in the latest Guidance for sea level rise are applied.
If all that was not the ultimate exercise in madness and dysfunction, the Council has now set aside a further $65,000 to further investigate these three flood-prone locations.
It can only be hoped that after the sea flooding event on January 5 on the Thames foreshore, the elected Councillors, Board members and key staff will put an end to this lunacy. The only sane choice is to completely abandon these risky three foreshore options.
To avoid the $21 million+ for the project itself, plus the $65,000 allocated for further site investigation being a complete waste of money, Council must only consider other sites which fully comply with the Government’s guidance and are out of the sea flood risk zone.
The press release from Council does not inspire confidence, however – “$65,000 allocated at the 12 December 2017 Council meeting can be used to carry out further detailed assessments, including geotechnical investigations, of the sites in order to prepare a final recommendation for the location of the proposed new facility.”
The report from Visitor Solutions is a masterclass in avoiding the elephant in the room – namely the risks to major foreshore infrastructure from sea flooding due to sea level rise. Nowhere in the 83-page report do the words “sea level rise”, “coastal inundation”, or “climate change” appear. The report only mentions the potential threat of river flooding. The real and present threat to all three of their preferred locations from sea flooding is simply not discussed. How can this be when the 2008 Government Guidance requires consideration of 0.8 m of sea level rise, and the latest 2017 Guidance was available in draft form during the time when the report was being written? The Regional Council’s coastal flooding simulator was readily available to Visitor Solutions and shows that all three sites are under threat from sea flooding under even modest sea-level rise scenarios. How come the Council failed to instruct Visitor Solutions to consider coastal flooding and failed to alert them to this information?
There is, however, a glimmer of hope. At its meeting this week the Council will consider a resolution to approve the latest sea level rise projections in the Government Guidance “as the basis for development of the 2018-2028 Long-Term Plan”. If passed, this resolution will ensure that all major infrastructure projects considered under the Long-Term Plan – such as the proposed new swimming pool – will have to be stress tested against these new guidelines and Category A sea level rise projections.
Of course, that is only a small part of the story. The other big test will come when the Council is presented with a new major coastal subdivision and must decide on a resource consent. Will the Council attempt to turn a blind eye to the Guidance as it has done in the past, and allow risky development on the coast? Or will the Council “get with the program” and rigorously implement the new Guidance?
There is another whole angle to the swimming pool proposal. Is a $21 million swimming pool really the best use of ratepayers money? Around one-third of the District’s population is already aged over 65 and this demographic will increase by 60% in the next 30 years. How many 65+’s actually go to a swimming pool? But more on that later.