Dealing with sea level rise: who should pay?

8 May 2018


We need to wake up to the financial and opportunity cost of continuing our protection measures against sea level rise.

Councillor Lee and seawall

Climate Change Portfolio Leader, Councillor David Lee

Wellington City Council’s Climate Change Portfolio Leader, Councillor David Lee, says sea-level rise is an issue the Council cannot avoid. And it’s one of the main issues the Council is facing as part of one of its priority areas in the 2018-28 Long-Term Plan – resilience and the environment.

The City Council has spent $1 million on the construction of a 150-metre long concrete seawall on The Esplanade between Island Bay and Owhiro Bay. The seawall was built to prevent a repeat of the severe damage inflicted on The Esplanade by huge seas in a southerly storm in 2013.

The Council viewed the seawall as necessary to prevent storm damage in the immediate area and to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. It may be one of many more high seawalls to be built around Wellington’s south coast and harbour in coming years.

So Cr Lee says it’s timely to start a conversation about how seawalls are prioritised against other infrastructure spend aimed at strengthening the city’s ability to deal with natural events like earthquakes.

“In other words, what forces of nature do we get ready for? How many people will be affected or protected by the choices we make? And, is it the best use of ratepayer funds to commit to measures that benefit a relatively small number of homeowners?”

Cr Lee wonders: “Should we be looking at who benefits from these seawalls?  Maybe coastal property owners should be planning to fund them – or perhaps we should be readying to retreat from the coast to higher ground?

“We - or perhaps the next generation - will have some tough decisions to make in our coastal areas, and the conversations need to start.”

Consultation on the 10-Year Plan is open till midnight on Tuesday 15 May. You can read the plan and have your say via www.10yearplan.wellington.govt.nz