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Does the state’s new $7 million seawall at Ukumehame work?

By Staff | Oct 17, 2013

Waves routinely crash over the new seawall on Honoapiilani Highway at Ukumehame and puddle water on both lanes. West Siders are concerned about safety for drivers and the $7 million project promoting erosion in the area.

WEST MAUI – The emergency repair of a 4,000-foot section of Highway 30 along the shoreline at Ukumehame cost taxpayers approximately $7 million. It was completed in 2012.

“Work included installation of rock revetments and a concrete retaining wall that provides stability to the highway and additional resistance to beach erosion from wave action,” explained Derek R. Inoshita with the state Department of Transportation’s Public Affairs Division.

With waves breaking into and over the concrete Jersey barriers almost daily – some days are worse than others – the question is whether or not the fix works, or is it failing?

According to Inoshita, “The retaining wall and rock revetment shoreline treatment was designed to keep the wave energy from eroding the shoreline and undermining the roadway. It is holding well, and the shoreline has been stabilized,” he said.

“The occasional splashing over the wall occurs when there is a combination of high tide and high swell, but it does not cause ponding on the roadway surface. The road was also widened further mauka with wider paved shoulders.”

On Thursday, Oct. 3, three intrusions onto the roadway over Jersey barriers were observed in the area. Cars were hit by the wave action, and water pooled across the highway onto the mauka shoulder.

Wahikuli resident Blossom Kawahara described the experience: “I just drove back from Kahului, and l don’t know if there’s a super high tide or what. Seems to me waves were crashing over the wall all over the highway, not just Ukumehame but down the strip,” she said.

“The county or state should put up a sign warning about the surf and sand crashing over the wall. I have seen people swerve over to the oncoming traffic to avoid the waves,” she added.

“Do you think that’s safe?” Kawahara asked.

A county official confirmed the situation in confidence, “It even happens at low tide.”

West Side resident Donna Brown travels the highway to her job at the University of Hawaii Maui College, where she is coordinator of the Marine Option Program. She also serves as a representative on the Marine & Coastal Zone Advocacy Council.

“At the last meeting (of the council), I brought the concern up. First off, when they were building that whole thing, I was concerned about all the mud and dirt that they were making; it was smothering out the marine life,” Brown said.

“Also, I was concerned about whenever you harden the shoreline,” Brown continued, “it will destroy the beach, but the beach was already gone there. What it will do is, it will disrupt the sand transport down the coast. It’s gonna exasperate other areas, too.

“What they’re doing is putting one (Jersey barrier) after another in. My concern is that every time they put another one in, they’re gonna have to put another one in down the way. I’d say, within the next few years, the whole beach is going to be completely gone. That’s my big concern.”

Like Kawahara, she is worried about public safety, “with water coming across the road,” she warned.

Brown was a witness to the construction of the emergency repairs.

“When the DOT came in and they repaved the road, they widened the shoulder. When they widened the shoulder, they paved right over the sand in some areas. I have pictures,” she advised.

“They put gravel down, and they paved right over the beach. That was only a few months ago; and already you can see where the waves come up… then they scour the sand out, and now there’s a big drop-off there. They just widened the road with asphalt right over the sand, right over the beach,” she observed.

Dr. Chip Fletcher of U.H. Manoa warned the community about this situation in a study published in 1992.

Today, Dr. Fletcher is of the same mind.

“The DOT is allowed to declare an emergency to go in and protect the road with seawalls. It would be better if they moved the road. They’ve been talking about moving that road for 30 years, and they haven’t been able to work it out,” he said.

“Erosion at Ukumehame is extremely bad,” he warned.

“We’re dealing with a situation that is bigger than us. It has gone from how do we manage this beach to how do we manage this road? We haven’t done a very good job since the very beginning,” he continued.

“Sea level has been rising around Hawaii for over a century. When sea level rises – and with a road along a coast – you have a certain fate in the future that is not hard to predict.

“Now, if we had acted upon the obvious prediction,” Fletcher continued, “that rising sea level is going to erode the beach and start to damage the highway – if we had acted on that in an orderly, coherent manner – we might have been able to move that highway.”

There are options, Fletcher said.

“If you can’t move the highway, you will have to raise the highway. One way to raise the highway is actually to make a low bridge it could probably only need to be five feet high you would have to drive pilings down into the fossil reef that’s there and put a roadbed on top,” he said.

“It needs to be an elevated road, so that erosion can continue right underneath it. Waves can continue right underneath it, and it won’t interfere with access on the road. Eventually, that road will become a causeway; 50 years from now, it will be 60 feet, 100 feet out to sea,” the U.H. geologist predicted.

Mayor Alan Arakawa has also been working towards a permanent fix since his first term in office (1994) as a member of the Maui County Council, and he has been acting on that vision for the past 15 years.

“The county bought the land (100 acres in Ukumehame) in my last administration in anticipation that when the state moved the roadway further inland, we would have a corridor that they could utilize,” the mayor said.

“What we are trying,” the county chief executive envisioned, “which should be evident to everyone, is trying to create the Pali to Puamana Coastline Park… a long-term vision. It is not the five-year plan and it’s not the ten-year plan; it’s the 50-, 100-, 200-year plan.

“What do we do? Do we keep our head in the rapidly disappearing sand, or do we, as a community, make a collective plan?”

Fletcher had a suggestion.

“You need a community leader,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be an elected official. It could be a community leader; someone with the sort of personality that brings people together to solve the problem,” he commented.

Next week: Update on the status of the Pali to Puamana Coastline Park.