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The Issue With the 1999 Policy That Protects Hawaii's Beaches

The state and county governments have spent 2 decades granting exemptions to it
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2020 11:47 AM CST
The Government Is Helping Hawaii's Beaches Disappear
A seawall on Oahu, Hawaii.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – There are no private beaches in Hawaii—all are open to and owned by the public. But a private activity is whittling them away, reports ProPublica and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. More specifically, the shores of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai have been cut down by about 25% over the last century, and seawalls erected by oceanfront property owners are the major culprit. "Waves hitting the barriers pull the sand away from the shore and carry it out to sea," write Ash Ngu and Sophie Cocke. So, easy solution—ban the construction of new ones, right? That's exactly what the government did in 1999. But Ngu and Cocke's review of records surfaced more than 230 instances over the last two decades in which home, hotel, and condo owners have been handed exemptions by the government that have let them erect actual seawalls, rebuild collapsing ones, or create makeshift versions out of sandbags.

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"Officials defend their actions, saying that forcing property owners to comply with anti-armoring laws would cause them too much hardship, particularly along coastlines that already have lots of seawalls," they write. Their interactive piece allows readers to scan property by property, seeing visuals of the walls and the properties behind them, along with explainers about the various exemptions granted. One example: 1562 Mokulua Drive in Kailua on Oahu. It features a seawall of boulders that was constructed without the government's OK. Still, write Ngu and Cocke, the City and County of Honolulu supplied building permits to the owner in 2009 that enabled the property's redevelopment "into a sprawling, luxury estate." It sold six years later for $9.35 million. (Read the full article here.)

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