Hawaii pledges to strengthen oversight over beach erosion

HONOLULU — Hawaii officials have pledged to help strengthen oversight over seawalls and other barriers that are accelerating beach erosion in the state.

The state made the pledge Thursday.


The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica published an investigation in August that said property owners have used loopholes to circumvent state environmental polices and win permits for structures to protect multimillion-dollar homes at the expense of the state’s beaches.

State and local officials have granted more than 230 exemptions to owners of homes, hotels and condos over the past two decades, the publications reported. More than 25% involved permitting emergency sandbags to protect the properties from rising sea levels.

The publications found that while the permits are typically limited to three years, state officials repeatedly grant extensions or don’t enforce deadlines and homeowners rarely remove the barriers when their permits expire.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said it would revise its oversight in response to the investigation. Sam Lemmo, administrator for the department’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, said it was too early to name specific policy initiatives, but that he has assigned staff to research methods to “improve our tracking of (emergency authorizations) and our ability to make rational decisions regarding whether or not to allow them to continue.”


Hawaii law bans the building of seawalls because of concerns over beach loss, the Star-Advertiser reported.

Researchers estimate that roughly a quarter of the beaches on Oahu, Maui and Kauai have already been lost or critically narrowed because of seawalls.

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