Fund would cover costs of managed retreat
Money would help move buildings inland, respond to worsening erosion and sea level rise
In light of rapid climate change impacts, such as coastal erosion, a Maui County Council committee moved forward with a plan to create a separate fund specifically for addressing managed retreat along the shore.
The Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday afternoon voted 5-1 to recommend a bill that would create a managed retreat revolving fund.
“The problems are hitting us faster than we can react to them,” said committee Vice Chairperson Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat. “It’s known that sea level rise is happening. … With sea level rise, there’s climate change; with climate change, there’s more severe weather events like rain bomb situations we’ve seen recently at Nuu (Bay) and Kihei and these have huge impacts to our infrastructure, especially our coastal infrastructure.”
The funding pool is proposed to contain 20 percent of the transient accommodations tax fund — the fees levied on visitor lodging — which is projected to have about $60 million total for fiscal year 2023, and would be used for “shoreline safety improvements.”
Some opportunities for using the fund include pushing development inland from the coastline through the physical movement of existing structures and infrastructure; removing or relocating structures and infrastructure that pose a threat to public health or the environment; financing programs and permitting; and leveraging funds provided by federal, state, nonprofit or for-profit organizations and other non-county entities.
Infrastructure and utilities, and natural materials like trees and rocks, at Kaopala Bay, Kahana Bay, Napili Bay, Kaanapali boardwalk, Honokowai Point and areas along Honoapiilani Highway are currently compromised or at risk of toppling onto the beach, as well as shorelines in South Maui, Paltin said.
The west and south side are also the biggest revenue generators for the county.
“We could use $15 million right now for Kaopala Bay,” Paltin said. “To me, 20 percent is a conservative estimate. I feel like the west district is the tip of the spear statewide of things falling in the ocean.”
The majority of property tax revenue comes from coastal properties, including owner-occupied, timeshare and resort properties. Many hotels and transient accommodations are also built on the shoreline, and those who are not located on the shoreline travel there to experience the coast, thus connecting the proposed revolving fund to the TAT fund made sense, Paltin said.
“At the time when these properties start to go underwater, the assessed value is going to go down to nearly zero and everybody is going to need help, so we’ll have way more expenditures and way less revenue, so that’s the idea behind creating a managed retreat revolving fund, so we can start addressing the issues as they arise and possibly save up as time goes by,” she said. “The managed retreat issue is creeping up on us fast.”
In response to feedback by the public, Paltin made it clear during Wednesday’s meeting that the fund is not intended to be “a bailout for wealthy coastal landowners.”
“It’s to address the public health and safety impacts,” she said.
Priority would be given to projects involving, firstly:
• Removal or relocation of county-owned structures and infrastructure that pose a threat to public health or the environment.
• Removal of structurally compromised or abandoned structures that pose an imminent threat.
• Removal, relocation or safety improvements to county-owned structures.
• Assisting in the facilitation of permitting to remove privately owned structures.
• Other related county or privately owned projects.
The proposed revolving fund would be administered by the county Department of Management.
Monies from the special management area revolving fund, which is only fueled by fines and application fees, can also address coastal realignment, shoreline management, dune restoration or managed retreat, Planning Director Michele McLean said.
Still, Paltin would rather have a separate and secure fund, supported by the TAT, to address specific managed retreat purposes.
“I like the idea of having two separate accounts,” said Council Member Tasha Kama, who holds the Kahului seat. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but whatever happens tomorrow, at least we’ll know that we have the funds available to take care of it.”
Committee Chairperson Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Council Members Mike Molina and Shane Sinenci also supported the bill.
“We saw our county budget balloon to over a billion this budget and it was because of the added property taxes that are or were located along the shoreline,” said Sinenci, who holds the East Maui seat. “This is prudent for us to put these extra funds, while we have these funds, to put it away in anticipation of sea level rise and any catastrophe that potentially might happen along the coastline.”
Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura voted against the bill, saying that 20 percent of the TAT fund is too much and that the bill is premature, noting that there needs to be a comprehensive countywide managed retreat strategy and program first.
She suggested dropping the portion down to 5 percent.
“We need to have a bigger plan before we start setting aside money that would then be used for something that we don’t know the details of,” said Sugimura, who holds the Upcountry seat. “There are so many uses that are needed for the TAT funds. … I hate to set aside this without knowing what other emergencies that may (arise).”
Council Chairperson Alice Lee agreed with Sugimura that the funding could be better used “elsewhere,” but ended up voting in favor of the managed retreat revolving fund in order to move the item forward — the bill would have otherwise died because there were not enough voting members present.
“I’m not so much against it, I just feel that 20 percent is too high,” said Lee, who holds the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat.
Council Members Gabe Johnson and Kelly King were excused. Kama was excused midway through discussion.
The ordinance would take effect July 1 if the full council approves the bill.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.