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THIRD-GENERATION Byron Bay resident Keith Anderson, 65, has seen his hometown radically transformed over his lifetime.
He remembers when the town's main industries were dairy and piggeries, rather than backpacker tourism - and when his childhood home among the dunes of Clarks Beach was swept away by a storm surge in 1954.
"That just wiped away three rows of sand dunes. Mum had to get out and the land reverted back to Crown land," he said.
The surge was one of many that have hit the coastal region over the past 100 years which have caused the loss of jetties, ships, houses and streets. And as the world warms and sea levels rise by about one metre over the next 50 to 100 years, climate change scientists warn that residents and local councils should be prepared for even more intense storms and surges that could sweep up to 100 metres inland.
That was the message from a climate change forum held in Ballina last night that focused on the challenges councils face.
Complicating councils' responses to sea surges, coastal erosion and changing weather patterns across the region is the expected 26 per cent jump in population over the next 25 years.
While the Far Coast Regional Strategy calls for 'green breaks' between coastal settlements to protect important areas of biodiversity, about 51,000 new homes are slated for the area, massively increasing the urban footprint and bringing with it tens of thousands of extra vehicles on already congested roads.
Ken McLeod, co-facilitator of the newly-established Northern Rivers Climate Change Collaboration Agreement - an organisation of regional businesses and organisations - said transport was one of the issues councils and businesses must urgently tackle, along with food security and sustainable housing.
"At the moment all roads lead to the car. The local bus services are pretty patchy and not all that good, so we need to discuss how to create other alternative(s)," he said.
The NSW Government believes that by 2026, more than 150,000 vehicles will be crossing the NSW/Queensland border via the Pacific Highway every day, while heavy vehicle traffic will jump 3.4 per cent every year to 2025.
Of course, it is not just traffic congestion that will increasingly become a problem.
Karin Kolbe, of TOOT, or Trains On Our Tracks, has been pushing for the reintroduction of trains on the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line for the past 10 years.
The group is waiting to hear the result of a submission it recently put in for a share of the Federal Government's multi-billion dollar infrastructure fund.
Although Ms Kolbe isn't particularly hopeful of a handout, she said the reintroduction of the train line would dramatically reduce the area's greenhouse emissions.
"About 85 per cent of residents in the Lismore and Byron Shires live within 5km of the Casino-Murwillumbah line," she said. "If you are serious about reducing carbon emissions from the cars on our roads, you have to look at reintroducing the service along the line that already exists."
Ms Kolbe cites an Auslink study that found each car passenger is responsible for up to five times the amount of greenhouse gases per kilometre travelled by a rail passenger.
Mr McLeod also believes food security and food kilometres - the distance food travels from the farm gate to the dinner plate - also need to be resolved.
"As a region we have lost the capacity to produce much of our essential foods," he said. "Byron Shire used to be dominated by dairy farms, now there are three.
"We need to develop a capacity to produce at least our essential foods locally so we are not so vulnerable to extreme weather. …