An engineers report, commissioned by property owners at a resort built by the Mantra Group in Hervey Bay, states that the seawall protecting properties had the "potential for sections of the structure to fail" in extreme weather conditions.

A dispute regarding who is responsible for a possible seawall upgrade has now inevitably arisen. The details and outcome of this particular example are complex and uncertain.  What is certain however is that without setting up clear coastal management accountabilities from the outset we are likely to see more of these disputes in the future.

The prospect of sea-level rise and an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms linked to climate change is driving the need for coastal adaptation options and plans.   Seawalls, rightly or wrongly, are often top of the list of options in adaptation plans. However, finding appropriate mechanisms to fund and maintain such costly assets is proving challenging for many coastal managers.

However, forcing through investments to appease particular stakeholders and then hoping for the best is likely to lead to significant and costly problems in the future. Ideally, adaptation plans identify investment beneficiaries as a means of determining who should pay for investments (with some exceptions). Equally important is developing clear monitoring and maintenance accountabilities, linked to specific performance targets or triggers. Then if things do go wrong or reality varies significantly from predictions there are clear lines of recourse.

Trying to set accountabilities after an investment is made is unlikely to end well.