Paia temple takes steps to curb shoreline erosion

State approves plans to put in temporary barrier while long-term solutions sought

Concrete debris is scattered on the beach fronting Paia’s Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission Tuesday. On Friday, the state land board approved the 116-year-old Buddhist temple’s plans to install a temporary erosion control barrier along the shoreline to slow property loss and keep cemetery headstones from falling into the ocean. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

After years of watching the shoreline fronting its property recede, a 116-year-old Buddhist temple in Paia plans to have a temporary erosion barrier installed to curb property loss and to preserve headstones that are toppling into the ocean.

The Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission and cemetery, which was established in 1906, is located across from the Paia Community Center and holds hundreds of grave markers along the coast of Mantokuji Bay.

However, sea level rise and years of wave action have taken or damaged a few acres of the property, prompting Mantokuji Mission board members to seek quick fixes while long-term solutions are developed.

“It’s a very alarming situation for the temple and burial sites,” said Chris Yuen, member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which on Friday approved right-of-entry and revocable permits to Mantokuji Mission to install temporary erosion control structures and conduct other maintenance.

The construction process will entail installing geotextile fabric containers on the shoreline, then filling them with sand and stacking the bags for a total height of about 6 feet to create an erosion barrier.

Graves at Paia’s Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission line the shoreline Tuesday.

The project is estimated to take four to eight weeks to complete, depending on ocean conditions. The right-of-entry is for one year while the revocable permit will be on a month-to-month basis and subject to annual renewal until termination, according to BLNR documents.

In addition, the headstones scattered on the beach will be moved and preserved on-site in coordination with the temple’s congregation. No natural stones will be removed from the beach.

Other repairs and maintenance will also take place, including moving an old disused concrete brick crematory oven from the beach onto the property.

Mantokuji Mission Administrative Board President Eric Moto said Friday that the headstones near the shoreline are over 100 years old and some are already beginning to topple off the bank. The temple is also about 14 feet from the eroding shoreline and is at risk for future damage from the ocean hazards.

Erosion has also exposed an old dump site in the yard between the temple and the beach, uncovering rusted car parts, carpet, glass, tires and other debris, which are polluting the ocean. Existing and uncovered trash will be removed from the beach and properly disposed of off-site.

A collection of headstones displaced by beachfront erosion rest in the graveyard at Paia’s Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission Tuesday.

Previous sand mining and a tsunami have also taken a toll on the shoreline. In 1933, the Mantokuji Mission granted an easement to the county for the right to take beach sand to repair roads and construct public works. An April Fools’ Day tsunami in 1946 also impacted the Paia shoreline and damaged the temple property and cemetery. The inundations may have caused “a significant loss of sediment resources from the local beach system,” according to BLNR documents.

The Coastal Geology Group at the University of Hawaii determined that the shoreline is moving inland at an average rate of about 1.6 feet per year.

BLNR Member Doreen Canto, who holds the Maui seat on the board, said during the virtual meeting on Friday that she wanted “to share the seriousness of the erosion occurring along the shoreline, you know, where the gravestones are dropping into the Pacific Ocean.”

Canto said it wasn’t as bad back when she used to live in the area, but now the problem is “very apparent today.”

According to the BLNR, the Mantokuji Mission board has two years to submit a plan to outline possible long-term solutions, which may include relocating temple structures farther inland and/or restoring the depleted beach system.

However, Moto said Friday that a temporary erosion control structure is needed to prevent further shoreline loss and damage to the temple building.

Mantokuji Mission has hired Oceanit as a consultant on beach restoration, though there is no specific long-range plan yet, BLNR documents show.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today