If you put aside for the moment the savings in water, replacement plants and even fertilisers, this comment from Steve MacRae says it all. He led the team that decided to use TerraCottem on a 73 hectare development site half an hour north of Byron Bay. He’s also more than happy to explain why he agreed to spend half a million dollars on a soil additive. But first, let’s go back to the beginning, when all around lay sand, sand and more sand…
The site chosen by the Ray Group, developers of the Salt project in South Kingscliff Northern NSW, had been sand mined for thirty years up until the eighties. Mostly flat land, the site was about eighty per cent was covered in bitu bush – a noxious weed known for its swift growth and the ability to overpower native plants. Oh, and there wasn’t any soil – “There was soft pure sand, north, south, east and west and as far down as you can dig”. But the site did have assets – not that they wouldn’t at times make their demands – a natural creek, sand dunes and the sea.
Salt, “a village by the sea” was planned as a “world’s best practice” master planned village community containing some 1,500 titles made up of high quality residential precincts and two major Outrigger and Peppers resorts – see www.saltvillage.com.au. Steve was the senior developer for the project. Together with the landscape architect, contractor and environmental consultant, it was his job to turn a weedy, windy, salty and sandy site into an oasis of green wrapped around two deluxe resorts and a master-planned sea-side village.
“We started on the weeds, working on the main body of the site with machinery, but when we came to the dunes and the riparian section along the creek – both over a kilometre long – we had to work by hand.”
“We couldn’t afford to apply it over the whole site, but it wasn’t long before we could all tell where it’d been used – there was absolutely no doubting its performance.”
All along Steve was very conscious of the sand. “Having been a mineral sand mining site, the remaining sand was loose with little capacity to stabilise or support growth. On top of that we’d carried out major earthworks moving 1.5 million cubic metres of sand, plus 700,000 cubic metres of sand brought in from further inland along an eight kilometre-long pump pipeline. We’d raised the level of the site to ensure views over the natural dunes to the ocean, but also to give the profile of the site some character, and then we were facing the further cost of importing large volumes of topsoil.”
With a landscape budget of $20 million, Steve and the team had to take steps to ensure, not only that the investment in plants would be protected, but that the green spaces would be resilient and sustainable. “Sitting at the centre of the project is a major park which doubles as an outdoor amphitheatre and it had to have quick recovery capabilities built in.”
Russell James of TerraCottem was called in and asked to put together a proposal for the project. “I asked him to prove to me that the TerraCottem would work, both economically and environmentally.”
Russell met with the team members, spent time on site and presented not only proof of how effective the use of TerraCottem as a soil additive had been in other similar situations, but also how it could be best put to use on the Salt development. “He covered everything, from the savings on water during establishment irrigation to the products ability to reduce leaching of nutrients into the creek in the long term. He claimed we could turn the sand into a growing medium and he convinced an initially sceptical landscape architect and contractor – the ones who would be guaranteeing the works. He was given the go-ahead, “and we were all convinced in a very short space of time.”
While the now-completed buildings offer a buffer from the wind, which can be extreme because of the direct exposure to the ocean, when the site was initially planted, conditions were tough. “It was extremely harsh, with little cover from the salt and wind, and yet our plant loss rate was cut in half. It also halved the time it took for the landscape to mature which is critical when you are opening new four and five star resorts. The amount of water needed for establishment was significantly reduced, and what we did apply was retained instead of passing straight through sand to the aquifer.”
For more about the use of TerraCottem as a soil additive, click here.