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Erosion threatens Honoapiilani Highway

By Staff | Feb 2, 2012

Broken barriers line the beach along a stretch of Honoapiilani Highway near Launiupoko. Photo by Louise Rockett.

WEST MAUI – In 1992, a report from the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program issued an ominous warning.

Prepared by Dennis Hwang and Dr. Charles Fletcher (University of Hawaii), the beach management study forecasted conditions occurring today that threaten Honoapiilani Highway between Puamana and the Pali.

“There, beach recession threatens to undermine the highway. To protect the highway, a crude set of concrete barriers (the type used as highway lane dividers,) and an expensive revetment have been installed to stop recession,” the study notes.

Jersey barriers have proliferated from one end of the ailing corridor to the other and are in varying states of deterioration.

Some are relatively new; others are rusted and shrinking. Some have fallen makai, abandoned by the state along the shoreline, like old Band-Aids in the trash.

Hwang and Fletcher described the situation 20 years ago.

“There is no development along this shoreline, only the two lane highway is threatened by the erosion. Mauka of the road is a flat coastal terrace perhaps a mile wide. Rather than move the highway to the foot of the hills at the back of the terrace and make a beach park where the shoreline is receding, the beach is being sacrificed in the interest of protecting the highway.”

Some West Siders are mama-bearish about preserving the historic corridor, as-is.

An article in the Lahaina News last year triggered responses that were previously published.

Gordon Cockett was the first-responder. “I happen to sit on the task force that was formed several years ago for just this purpose – to discuss relocating the highway. We elected Mike White (current County Councilman) as our chair. Most of us do not favor relocating it.”

“This route is 100 years old,” the op-ed contributor continued. “It is one of the most beautiful drives we have here, and I certainly don’t want it destroyed by changing its location.”

Elizabeth Whitehead of Lahaina agreed.

“From the Pali to Puamana, it is the last stretch of beach where locals and visitors can drive right up to it.”

There are, however, financial and ecological ramifications of continuing on the path of just repeatedly patching the problem.

“The crude barriers presently protecting the road will soon be inadequate and need to be replaced by a larger and longer stone revetment, at a cost of millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars,” the study said.

The cherished coastline will suffer as well.

“Sand delivery to neighboring beaches will diminish, and erosion will accelerate… Very soon the sizes and cost of the protection will vastly exceed the cost to protect the road.”

This is what’s happening right now.

The Lahaina News will explore the erosion problems and potential solutions in a series of articles about Highway 30 – West Maui’s vital artery.

Viable alternatives suggested by Whitehead and Cockett will be explored as well as actions being taken to protect the roadway by the state.