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Residents oppose state plan for Kaanapali beach restoration work

Some say that ‘this is our Maunakea for the west side’

Ka‘anapali Beach is a hub of activity in July. Lahaina residents are voicing opposition to a proposed state project to restore the beach by bringing 50,000 cubic yards of sand to shore. Opponents say the action will smother the reef and damage the ecosystem. The Maui News / MATHEW THAYER photo

Residents from Lahaina recently issued a warning to the state that they will do everything possible to stop a controversial beach restoration project from moving forward at Ka’anapali Beach.

“This is our Maunakea for the west side,” said Kekai Keahi. “We are committed. Don’t take us lightly on this.”

“I going jump in front that tractor, I going lie down, I going do whatever and I going make sure this thing doesn’t happen just for the tourism dollar,” said Leonard Nakoa. “Nuff already.”

Keahi, Nakoa and other opponents to the state project, called the Ka’anapali Beach Restoration and Berm Enhancement, are alleging the plan to bring to shore 50,000 cubic yards of sand will smother existing reef and permanently damage delicate ecosystems.

Furthermore, the plan can’t prove efficacy, didn’t conduct sufficient community outreach and prioritizes hotel interests, they testified during a state Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting on the topic Oct. 22.

Still, the board voted to accept the project’s final environmental impact statement. Members said opponents have other opportunities to voice their concerns over the project if the study is accepted by Gov. David Ige.

If the project gains approvals, the beach will nearly double in width — from 41 to 78 feet, according to the final environmental impact statement. Sand will be moved to an approximately 1-mile section from an 8.5-acre sand field located about 150-800 feet seaward of Ka’anapali Beach.

The project is considered a short-to-midterm effort to mitigate the impacts of rising water levels and coastal erosion, which are increasing with global sea level rise, according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources press release Oct. 23 on the plan.

Since 1990, the Ka’anapali Ali’i, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and Ka’anapali Beach Hotel have been threatened by erosion events. Beach walks have been damaged and removed and acres of vegetation and trees swallowed up by the sea, the draft study said.

More than a dozen testified during the meeting, with one person — Kaanapali Operations Association President Wayne Hedani — saying he supports the project.

He said the association represents more than 5,000 units of hotels, condos, shopping centers, golf courses and single-family residences that comprise the Ka’anapali Beach resort area.

“The proposed project is an effort to protect one of our state’s most valuable natural resources — the beach,” he testified. “In doing so, it protects our economy and our 5,000 employees of Ka’anapali.”

The remaining verbal testimony passionately opposed the proposal, with many starting their statements in Hawaiian. Youngsters also spoke out against it, saying it will harm the ecosystem.

“The fish is not going to have any food because the sand will cover the coral,” said Kaliko Teruya, an 11-year-old student at Lahaina Intermediate School.

In its Oct. 23 news release, DLNR noted that the board hearing was not an evaluation of the project but an evaluation of the content of the environmental impact statement.

BLNR members said that opponents may continue to voice concerns about the project at approval points.

The project would require a conservation district use permit, which would need further board approval and would be preceded by more community outreach and another public comment period, DLNR said.

BLNR member Samuel “Oahu” Gon III said before the vote that an environmental impact statement is for exploring data gathering and considering impacts not only for the physical environment but also for the cultural environment. He added that more community outreach needs to be done.

“Nonetheless I also recognize there are additional opportunities that this project will have to deal with,” he said. “I do anticipate that there will be rough roads ahead for this project.”

The vote was 4-1, with Gon abstaining and member Doreen Canto of Maui opposing.

Maui residents and others voiced opposition at a July BLNR meeting to a state beach restoration project that would fast-track permits for small-scale beach restoration work, saying that the process prioritizes wealthy property owners over community engagement. Testifiers also questioned whether erosion measures would work long term or make things worse for the environment.

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

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