Christmas Cover Up
During a period of heavy rain in March 2010 a geyser started spouting from the top of the concrete storm water pit at the base of the Bells Beach stairs. The geyser was mentioned to the Surf Coast Shire via the forum of the Bells Beach Advisory Committee. The Shire got the pits cleaned out, shoveled some sand around and generally convinced themselves they had solved the storm water problem.
If only things were that simple. Rain that fell over winter showed nothing had been fixed. The water flow over the top of the pit continued and started to erode the footings of the stairs at the base of the cliff. As the winter rains continued the erosion got worse. It was mentioned to the Shire at the BBAC meetings but nothing was done about it. Some concerned locals started poking around. It was discovered that the storm water from the Winkipop car park was also being diverted to the Bells outlet, adding to the problem. The capacity of the system was never checked as to whether it could deal with the additional run off.
A period of heavy rain in August saw an unprecedented flow of water from the top off the pit. The water spout has been estimated at a solid 6 – 8 feet, and was eating away at the base of the cliff and the footing of the stairs. A concerned passer by was able to release the pressure from the system by making a couple of small holes in the asbestos pipe that joins the two pits.
These holes reduced the vertical flow and allowed the water to run out on to the sand away from the cliff. Not an ideal solution, but better than undermining the foundation of the stairs.
Understandably the Shire weren’t too happy about citizens taking things into their own hands, so at this point they decided to have a look at the drains, and maybe get something done about fixing the situation.
In the time honoured tradition of councils everywhere the Surf Coast Shire decided the best thing to do would be to string up some orange barrier mesh around the site to keep people away. Fair enough.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the magic sort of webbing that could fix drains or stop erosion, so as the rain kept coming, the area around the drain kept getting worse.
We asked some plumbing and drainage people that deal with this type of thing for an opinion of the storm water system. They said the system could never work as expected. It is way too small for the amount of water that runs down the car park drain. They suggested removing the pit (great! it’s an eyesore) and taking a trench from the drain to divert all the water into the creek, where it would naturally flow into the sea, without eating away the base of the cliff.
This solution was offered to the Shire, but they have decided not to pursue it. At least they had decided to stop sending the run off from the Winki car park down to bells in October, so that had to help a bit.
Then – two days before Christmas 2010 – action! Faced with the embarrassment of having this disgrace on display over the holidays the Shire decided to do something. They decided on the same course of action that had served them so well the previous Easter. That’s right, they got a back hoe down onto the beach and piled sand and rocks around the drain.
The area was made safe once again and the orange safety mesh was removed.
It wasn’t too long before the new pile of sand was gone. A summer deluge, the likes of which are supposed to come along once in a hundred years, hit Bells in mid January. The water poured from the top of the pit once more.
When the sand was washed away this time it revealed the true extent of the Shire’s handiwork. As well as a pile of sand, some rocks had been strategically placed around the pipe, only now the pipe was severely damaged. While it is only possible to speculate on the cause of this damage, it would appear to be the type of damage an asbestos pipe might suffer were it to have a pile of rocks dropped on it.
In any case the pipe had come to a state where chunks of asbestos material were now being washed free of the pipe and lodging in the rocks around the drain.
And that’s where we find ourselves at present. We have a defective eyesore smack bang, centre stage at one of Australia’s tourist icons. This an embarrassment on an aesthetic level, it is causing real damage to the fragile cliff and access stairways right next to it, and it is rapidly becoming a source of asbestos fibres in the surrounding area.
But don’t take our word for it, next time you are down at Bells have a look for yourself!