A coastal storm in Wellington over the weekend has forced roads to be closed, washed away 4 meters of land in front of a house, taken out a 10 metre section of sea wall, and threatened a local fire station. This kind of damage in New Zealand from high tides and big waves is not new, but the frequency and number of events is increasing. However what stood out for me in this event was the vulnerability of the Plimmerton Fire Station. From the Stuff report,
In the Porirua suburb of Plimmerton, 10 metres of a seawall had been washed away and water was lapping at the doors of the Plimmerton Fire Station, which backs on to the beach.
Chief fire officer Carl Mills said it had been an exceptional storm.
The Porirua City Council had taken sandbags to the station, to protect its back doors from the encroaching ocean.
On Sunday evening council contractors placed 13 1.5 tonne concrete blocks between the sea and the station, to act as a temporary seawall.
Six months earlier there had been sand dunes around the back of the station, but those had all been eroded away, leaving the building exposed.
Mills said the last time the seawall had been compromised was during the June 2013 winter storm, but this time a bigger section was damaged.
He expected it would take at least six months for the damaged section of sea wall to be replaced.
It’s one thing to have to take a different route to work. It’s another when your local emergency services are put at risk from a simple storm. How often can the seawall be repaired? At what point do the repairs become uneconomical, or simply unviable with sea level rise? Shifting the fire service building is probably not too problematic, but there is other critical infrastructure where the solutions aren’t so simple. It’s time we were auditing all coastal areas for what is going to need to be moved, not in some hypothetical CC future, but soon. And we need to be having this discussion publicly, so that communities can be involved in the decisions that will be affecting their future in new ways.
South Dunedin is already having to deal with this, and it sounds like Wellington is up next. For both those cities and their local communities, climate change mitigation and adaptation should be a significant part of the up coming Local Government elections in the Spring.
Update: Please try and keep comments on topic i.e. about infrastructure and other risk in NZ from CC, what can be done about that, the role of councils, government and the people in that, related mitigation/adaptation issues etc. I’m happy for that to be broad but would prefer some attempt was made to relate to the post. We have lots of experience and perspective on CC amongst the Standard readers/commenters, let’s make good use of it.