Close calls prompt building owners to seek new seawall

Kahana Sunset apartment owners worry about the next big winter storm.

Perched near the water’s edge at Keonenui Bay in Napili, the 4.5-acre, six-building apartment complex has had some close calls with destructive surf since the 79-unit resort was built in 1971.

One of the owners, Jacqueline Scheibel, described a December 2009 storm as being “really, really tough.” As surf pounded outside, a woman heard another noise at 3 a.m., opened a sliding door and saw that an entire lanai and its furniture had fallen 10 feet into the churning ocean.

“We had a huge seawall problem,” Scheibel said Tuesday. “We could have lost a building.”

If the building had been damaged, it could not have been rebuilt, she said, and the Kahana Sunset would have lost one of its six apartment buildings. Scheibel said it was pure luck that the surf damaged only the lanai and a seawall.

“The building itself was undamaged,” she said. “That’s how fortunate we were.”

Scheibel, who lives on Maui and in Santa Rosa, Calif., serves as co-chairwoman of the Kahana Sunset Association of Apartment Owners’ Long-range Planning Committee. She pointed out that the resort may run out of luck when the next 50- or 100-year storm arrives in West Maui.

So, to improve the property’s chances of surviving the next big one, the Kahana Sunset is seeking approval to build a replacement seawall and drainage improvements.

On Tuesday, members of the Maui Planning Commission are scheduled to review the project and provide comments on Kahana Sunset’s draft environmental assessment. The 415-page document was published online in the state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control’s Feb. 8 issue of The Environmental Notice. (To see the document, go online to and click on the highlighted portion for the Kahana Sunset project in the notice’s current issue.)

Plans call for demolishing a 114-foot seawall and a concrete stairway. A new seawall would be built mauka of the state-designated shoreline and a replacement stairway about 30 feet inland of the existing structure. Aside from protecting the apartment complex, the project aims to widen the beachfront and prevent dirt from entering the ocean during a storm.

To proceed, the Kahana Sunset needs a change in zoning from residential to hotel district and a community plan amendment from single family to hotel and a variety of other government permits, including a special management area permit and a shoreline setback variance. Scheibel said the resort also is seeking final approval for emergency erosion repair work done over the past few years, including the December 2009 damage.

“We had a lot of ocean water damage to the property,” she said.

Kahana Sunset owners are not the only ones taking steps to protect their property from ocean erosion.

Also on Tuesday’s planning commission agenda is a request from homeowner Walter Hester III for an environmental assessment determination for a shoreline setback variance for his proposed retaining wall construction on less than half an acre at Keonenui Bay, located near the Kahana Sunset.

In September, the commission reviewed plans for a sloping rock revetment to protect the Hololani Resort Condominiums from erosion in Kahana. During that meeting, commission members expressed concern about the rock wall’s potential for a “domino effect,” leading to more erosion and loss of sand at neighboring properties.

Sandbags, landscaping and a few feet of land are all that stand between the Hololani Resort and the ocean. The planning commission asked Hololani representatives to consider alternatives to a revetment, including the construction of a groin (a sand-retention structure) or an offshore structure to break up wave action.

Scheibel expressed confidence that the Kahana Sunset’s proposed seawall replacement has been carefully engineered not to aggravate erosion or the loss of sand at nearby properties.

“There will be no ‘domino effect,’ ” she said, noting that all properties at Keonenui Bay already are protected by seawalls. “What we’re doing is moving everything further back so there will be additional beach. We will enhance and enlarge the beach, not reduce its size . . . I don’t anticipate erosion at all.”

According to the University of Hawaii, oceans are rising at a rate of 4- to 5-millimeters per year, Scheibel said.

“If you multiply that over time, we need to be moving structures that can be moved further back so there can be more beach. We’re taking all that into consideration,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we protect our beaches. Our beaches are our treasure.”

Aside from being an environmental and economic resource that attracts visitors to the island, beaches are “a part of our culture,” she said. “The ocean is a healing source.”

An important part of the Kahana Sunset’s project is that an improved drainage system would filter water on the property and prevent pollutants, such as petroleum products, from getting into the ocean, she said.

“Anything that goes through the drainage will be filtered before it gets to the bay,” Scheibel said. “That has not been the case in the past.”

The new seawall has been designed to retain sand on the beach, she said.

“There’s a huge amount of sand in the bay,” said Scheibel, a diver who has seen the sand herself. Given the opportunity, the sand will come up on shore, and “it’s going to lay itself down,” she added.

Salt-tolerant landscaping will be employed to hold on to sand as dunes are developed, she said.

“We know it will stay because it has been there before,” she said.

The estimated cost of demolishing and rebuilding the seawall is $750,000, which would come from apartment owners’ reserve savings, Scheibel said. If permits are granted as expected, work would begin in a couple of years when enough money has been saved to launch the project’s construction phase.

Public comments on the Kahana Sunset project’s draft environmental assessment are due March 11. Comments should be submitted to:

* Maui Planning Commission, Department of Planning, 250 S. High St., Wailuku 96793; Attention: Planning Director Will Spence, 270-7634.

* Chris Hart & Partners Inc., 115 N. Market St., Wailuku 96793; Attention: R. Raymond Cabebe, 242-1955.

* Brian Perry can be reached at