A multimillion-dollar government-funded development is at risk after a petition against it was signed by more than 100 people.
Gravelly Beach residents have been calling for improvements to be made on the foreshore for decades, and the West Tamar council received a $2 million pledge to do so from the federal government during the 2019 election, with the deed signed in February this year.
The master plan was developed with the assistance of landscape architecture studio Playstreet after council met with key community and stakeholder groups, including the Exeter Gravelly Beach Advisory Group, and the Gravelly Beach Foreshore Committee.
As a result, several proposed works were incorporated into the Gravelly Beach Foreshore Master Plan, including a beach restoration and a new rock wall, with tentative plans to create a landscaped recreational area on Crown land opposite the shops on Gravelly Beach Road, which is currently controlled by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife. A portion of the town's population has since formed a faction to oppose specific sections of the development.
Gravelly Beach homeowner and spokesperson for the group, Caroline Larner, believed the reclamation segment of the master plan was unnecessary and would "destroy the historic beach forever".
"From the late 1800s to 1940s, many newspaper articles proclaimed the pebble-covered beach a 'popular holiday resort', where thousands of people travelled by steamboat from Launceston, for picnics," she said.
"We can have this again by removing the rice grass and the rock groyne in front of the post office, to restore the effect of natural hydrology and tidal flow, allowing for daily cleansing of the beach."
Since the area's heyday, the introduction of rice grass along the banks of the estuary in the 1940s has caused thick swathes of the invasive flora to cover the foreshore.
Aimed at stabilising eroding shorelines and absorbing the worsening contamination from Launceston's combined sewerage system, the weed's strong and long root beds - which in some cases can extend five metres underground - have caused large volumes of sediment to become trapped, proving difficult to remove.
However, Ms Larner said removal was possible, and used fellow Gravelly Beach homeowner Patricia Beams' personal land restoration project, at her property on Beach Road, as an example.
"She uses a whipper snipper to cut the tops off the rice grass, burns the waste when dry, then uses a garden fork to loosen the roots to allow tide action to wash away the silt over time," she said.
"It has been achieved over many years, but the process may be hastened by using machinery."
Dr Matt Sheehan, who completed his PhD on the impact of rice grass on the Tamar Estuary in 2008, also previously stated that the weed could be successfully removed with machinery, but said it was largely impossible to get the vehicles that close to the water.
Founder of the now defunct Gravelly Beach Foreshore Reclamation and Beautification Committee, Barry Blenkhorn, said he had witnessed many attempts at removing the rice grass from the beach, dating as far back as the '70s, including one instance where an excavator was completely sunk in the process.
"The best thing to do with rice grass, which is nearly impossible to remove, is to work with it, not against it, by reclaiming and turning the area it's on into parkland, which we did when we created Rose Bay Park," he said.
Mr Blenkhorn said further reclamation works were planned on the north side of the beach about 20 years ago, when the groyne in question was built as a reinforcing structure aimed at aiding that process. However, following community complaints questioning permission and conveying fears of potential environmental breaches, the plan was halted.
The groyne has remained in the same position since, with council recently proposing to retain it, to aid the reclamation proposal and increase beach stability.
To satisfy mounting opposition to such works, West Tamar council enlisted the assistance of maritime-orientated technical consulting firm BMT Group. In August, a report aimed at assessing the feasibility of restoring about 300 metres of the beach foreshore, as proposed by community members as an alternative to reclamation, was undertaken.
Within the report, three "significant potential issues" with the community's amended proposal were raised. Those issues were the excavation and safe disposal of possibly contaminated soils; the high cost of excavation, even if soils were not contaminated; and continued maintenance expenses of periodically redistributing and renourishing the beach.
According to the West Tamar council's manager of development and former environmental scientist Amanda Locatelli, council was prompted, as a result of the report, to proceed with the original plan, citing feasibility as the main reason.
She said it was understood by council that the proposed alternative method was predicted to cost between $1 million and $3.4 million, therefore, at its cheapest point, it would meet the maximum funding allocated to the beach reclamation and nourishment section of the master plan, whereas at its most expensive point, it would far exceed it. Council opted against the risk.
According to the report, the broad cost range was due to the uncertainty surrounding the contaminated soil.
Opponents to the plan hit back again, believing the maximum costs in the report were overestimated.
West Tamar resident Danny Penny, who has 30 years' experience in the civil construction industry, said the estimated cost the rice grass removal and beach remediation, regardless of soil contamination, was "ridiculous and unclear".
He said that within an earlier version of the report, released in June, the beach nourishment materials were proposed to be sourced from retail outlets instead of wholesale local quarries.
Ms Locatelli said the council was yet to undertake the procurement process for those works or evaluate options regarding materials. Ms Larner also took issue in the report's estimated removal of 7848 cubic metres of soil, and said it was an incorrect calculation, as it had been based on a silt depth of 70 centimetres. She said that figure contradicted the 50-centimetre depth shown in a report she paid to be carried out by a principal geotechnical engineer from Tasman Geotechnics in October, who measured the silt depth from five to 20 metres away from the groyne.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: