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Coastal erosion threatens parks

Baldwin Beach Park’s doomed pavilion is a “poster child” for the damage coastal erosion and sea level rise cause.

This newspaper has been chronicling the pavilion’s plight for decades. Almost every August or September we run a story or photos showing how currents, wind and waves have cut into the beach to create cliffs where a month earlier was a hill of gently sloping sand. The progression of photos shows the ocean advancing farther inland each year to nibble away at the pavilion and tumble its amenities and shade trees one by one into the sea.

This year, about a third of the structure had to be removed due to erosion damage. What’s left is already undermined. In a month or so, if history is any indicator, the sand will have returned and the pavilion will be sitting high and dry.

It was encouraging to hear Maui County Parks and Recreation Director Karla Peters say her department is currently conducting a vulnerability study for all county beach parks. She says the study will help determine where resources are spent for repairs and upgrades and where there will need to be a “managed retreat.”

The study by Honolulu consulting and engineering firm Tetra Tech is expected take about a year and will identify the location and the extent of the threat to park facilities.

“We have a lot of capital improvement projects at these parks, and one of the critical questions is how do we invest in facilities if there is a chance they will be damaged or destroyed in the future,” said Parks planner David Yamashita. “The poster child is the Baldwin Beach Park Pavilion.” 

The department, with assistance from park staffers and a community advisory committee, is working on a Baldwin Beach master plan that includes replacing the structure with one or two inland pavilions. It is fortunate Baldwin has plenty of space to accommodate the improvements. That is not the case for all of Maui’s threatened oceanfront parks.

“I think the question is going to be for a lot of our beach parks on the West Side and in Kihei, there is not a lot of room to expand or move facilities back,” Yamashita said. “Can the county acquire more land to replace what has been lost? Going forward that is going to be a critical question, how we deal with that.”

Yamashita said multiple county departments are conducting vulnerability studies. That is also good to hear. Coastal communities and businesses are in the crosshairs of sea level rise and flooding events, as are many miles of our island roads and municipal facilities, including the Kahului Wastewater Treatment Plant and Kahului Airport.

Even modest rise, when combined with increasing extreme tides and storm surge, can have severe impacts.

The more we know, the better prepared we will be for the challenging times ahead.

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