Sydney: Meeting with Danny Wiecek

14 11 2009

Today I met with Danny Wiecek, Senior Natural Resource Officer of Coast and Estuaries for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water for the New South Wales Government. The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW covers a range of conservation and natural resources science and programs, including native vegetation, biodiversity and environmental water recovery.

The DECC has a funding program called the Estuaries Management Program and they basically give councils (cities) half the funding to do environmentally-friendly seawalls.

Danny recently wrote a state government guideline on improving the environmental value of seawalls in estuaries. This guideline is based on research done by the University of Sydney and the experience of what has been done in Australia and other cities around the world. The University has been doing research on the marine part and Danny does research on seawall lined shores – incorporating mangroves and salt marshes. He has been looking at the whole estuarine habitat rather than focusing on one type of seawall or habitat.

Urban estuaries like Sydney have to replace their crumbling seawalls, as more than 50% of the Sydney shore is lined with seawalls. In the past, there was no stand on whether they should be green or not, but now they’ve realized the destruction and loss of habitat that vertical seawalls cause. These seawalls have to be replaced anyways because they are falling in, so why not make them smarter and better and incorporate terrestrial vegetation and habitat? Danny works with local councils to determine what type of seawalls based on his written guideline will fit in each situation.

The guideline is not a mandatory provision, meaning not one seawall will be required in all situations since each habitat and marine situation is different. What is required is that an environmental aspect be incorporated based on a stack of different alternatives and outcomes (anything from mangroves to salt marshes, which is an endangered ecological community in Australia).

I was impressed by the way the funding for urban seawalls is set up. The city has to find half of the funding but the other half is supplied by an agency that is deeply invested in its ecological outcome, the DECC. This sets up a great scenario that guarantees a successful seawall that will aid its surroundings.

In Seattle, the seawall is a part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement and is being funded by SDOT and the State. Will the ecological impact be a driving factor behind the waterfront redevelopment?

Danny took me to a couple of seawalls along the Parramatta River. I posted a couple of pictures and here is a small clip of Danny explaining the benefits of the seawall:

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