Maalaea coastal erosion considered above average

Official: Mitigation may take 55 months and a quarter-million dollars

A seawall fronting the Kanai A Nalu condominium in Maalaea that is crumbling and being undermined shows its wear in this photo taken Friday. Government officials say that Maalaea’s shoreline is facing higher-than-average rates of erosion, and that it could take 55 months and a quarter million dollars to address. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

MAALAEA — Maalaea Bay’s high shoreline erosion rate is forcing area residents to act soon, but mitigation efforts are often riddled with time, permitting and funding issues, government officials said recently.

Meanwhile Maalaea community members are appealing for county help with coastal erosion problems that seem too big for any one group.

“My biggest takeaway was seeing how overworked and understaffed the Planning Department is,” Peter Cannon, Ma’alaea Village Association board member, said Tuesday. “It’s demoralizing to try and do the right thing for the community when you know how the county is struggling to respond to it themselves.”

About 140 people, mostly Maalaea residents, attended a Feb. 27 community meeting with state and county officials, along with coastal experts, to discuss shoreline erosion and mitigation measures.

Maalaea Bay Beach has eight condominiums and two-single family properties that are facing higher-than-average shoreline erosion rates.

A sign warning about the dangers of a crumbling Maalaea seawall rocks in the wind as its supports are also being eroded.

Also, much of the infrastructure was built in the 1970s, before coastal oversight and regulation, according to Tara Owens, coastal processes and hazards specialist for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program.

Maui has the highest rate of erosion in the state, Owens said, citing a U.S. Geological Survey report.

For some areas in Maalaea, the rate is up to 2 feet per year over long-term ranges that span the early 1900s to the early 2000s; the islandwide average is less than a foot per year.

“That’s a pretty high erosion rate,” Owens said.

Also steep are the time and cost challenges for shoreline mitigation efforts, officials said.

A pair of long-toppled palm trees cling to life Friday in Maalaea

Jim Buika, county Department of Planning coastal resource planner, presented a step-by-step planning process that could take 55 months — four years, seven months — and a quarter million dollars to complete based on Kahana Bay’s erosion mitigation efforts over the last five years. Kahana Bay is similar in size to Maalaea Bay; the area has 1,000 condo units and 20 buildings, some 12 stories high.

Not to mention, another major hurdle involves navigating the multijurisdictional shoreline permit process. The shoreline is managed by the county (onshore), the state (seaward of shoreline) and the federal government (into the water). Anticipated permits include three at federal, seven at state and eight at county levels, he added, saying that “it gets very complicated very fast.”

“That’s the reality,” Buika said. “I don’t mean to scare you, but that’s the process we’re going through in Kahana Bay. So you need to get organized.”

Although Maalaea’s erosion is not as bad as West Maui’s Kahana Bay “war zone,” or Oahu’s “horrific” North Shore, the South Maui area needs a customized solution, said Sam Lemmo, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands administrator.

“People always want to know what they can do to address the erosion problem, you’d like to know from government officials like myself, what you can and cannot do,” he said. “Each situation has to have a unique solution, and it’s based on the circumstances of the site.”

For example, Lemmo said the state considers the existing, onsite beach resources; what the backshore area looks like; how close the structures are to the ocean; surrounding land use; and the conservation and resource values of the area.

“We crunch these numbers and figure out how to move forward,” he said.

Owens said erosion occurs for various reasons, including long-term or chronic erosion from steady narrowing of beaches and land movement due to sea level rise; episodic erosion from event-based incidents, such as big storms; sea conditions like swells that change how sand behaves on the beach; and even human interventions, such as taking natural shoreline and exacerbating it by armoring or building walls.

Coastal management options range from doing nothing; managed retreat though setbacks or relocation; adaptation by elevating or reconfiguring; beach nourishment and/or dune restoration; temporary erosion control through sand pushing, natural or geotextile bags or erosion blankets; and armoring with a permanent rock revetment or seawall, she added.

The preferred strategies for coastal management are typically in the middle, Owens said, highlighting beach nourishment and dune restoration.

Looking ahead, Cannon, a Maalaea community member, said he’s most concerned with the lack of resources available for the county and the Planning Department.

“I’m appealing for help — I’m not criticizing,” he said Tuesday. “I’m asking for help from council and the mayor. It’s their Planning Department and their staff. The people of Maui are hurting, and they could be helping us.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.



Jim Buika, county Department of Planning coastal resource planner, said the shoreline erosion conversation should move from “what to do” to “how to do it.” During a meeting last Thursday in Maalaea on the topic, he outlined the following five key points:

• Reactive to proactive. “We need to change our paradigm of what we’re doing from a reactive, emergency situation to proactive planning.”

• Shoreline now managed by parcel. “Our shorelines are now managed one property at a time. We need to move away from that. We’re parceling our shoreline to death. One protective measure causes a problem for the next, etc.”

• Shift to regional beach cell approach. “We need to shift to a regional beach cell approach. We need to look at the Maalaea beach cell and create a hui, organizing and figuring out a common solution.”

• Establish public-private partnerships.

• Proactively restore beaches where feasible.


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