Protecting Our Beaches
“On Sat., Jan. 10, freshman State Rep. Chris Lee (Lanikai,Waimanalo district) became the first elected official to take me up on my offer to walk the walk, instead of just talking the talk…” wrote Rich Figuel of Beach Access Hawaii (http://www.beachaccesshawaii.blogspot.com/)
The two of us spent the afternoon walking down the length of Kailua beach to see where and how public beach access was being blocked, often by private property owners. Our beaches are the focal point of our community. However, in recent years private beachfront homeowners have began to block beach access by letting the vegetation on their properties grow to block access ways, and have encouraged vegetation to grow out onto the beach. By law, the public beach ends at the vegetation line, so when vegetation grows onto the beach, that land becomes the property of the private beachfront homeowner.
To save our beaches and stop homeowners from continuing to grow vegetation out onto the sand in order to expand their properties, I co-sponsored House Bill 1808 to give the Department of Land and Natural Resources(DLNR) the ability to make homeowners responsible for trimming the vegetation that is growing out onto our beaches, and also blocking beach access. Homeowners are currently responsible for trimming vegetation that blocks public sidewalks, and this extends that responsibility to public beach accesses, and the public beach itself. If beachfront homeowners are unwilling to cut back their vegetation, then DLNR will step in and cut it themselves, and send the homeowners the bill.
Building on our Beaches
I also co-sponsored House Bill 593, which creates a temporary moratorium on new housing development along our beachfront. Kailua Beach and others like it have been eroding and expanding rapidly over the last several years. In areas where the beach has expanded, this has led homeowners to build new homes right out onto the sand. The problem is that when the beach begins eroding again, there will be no choice but to build a seawall to protect these new houses from falling into the sea. Ultimately, this accelerates erosion, and will make our beaches disappear for good. Lanikai Beach is a perfect example.
House Bill 593 places a temporary moratorium on new house construction on our beaches until the State and the City and County can adequately determine a new building setback that accounts for the expected erosion of our beaches, and increasing sea level rise over the next several decades. Unfortunately, the bill did not end up passing this year. With Kailua Beach changing so rapidly, rest assured we will be back to revisit the issue again next year, hopefully with enough time to preserve our beaches from being overbuilt and endangered.