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State DOT takes action on highway erosion at Olowalu

By Staff | Sep 25, 2014

According to the state, Jersey barriers were placed along Honoapiilani Highway at Olowalu as a safety precaution.

WEST MAUI – With the addition of more Jersey barriers along Highway 30 earlier this month, access to the beach and ocean between Puamana and the Pali has been restricted once again without knowledge of the West Side community.

A Jersey barrier or Jersey wall is a modular concrete or plastic obstacle employed to separate lanes of traffic; and, in the case of Honoapiilani Highway, to separate and protect lanes of traffic and the highway from falling into the ocean.

Over the past 40 years (or more), it has been the signature Band-Aid fix utilized by the state Department of Transportation to address sea level rise and beach recession along the only public corridor leading into West Maui from the south.

And it’s not working, evidenced by the $7 million, 4,000-foot seawall and rock revetment constructed at Ukumehame in 2012 by emergency proclamation of Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Today, ocean waves splash over the structure almost daily, leaving puddles of water and mounds of sand and salt in their wake.

The situation is tenuous at best; unsafe at worst.

The latest attempt to seal the break in this vital artery is along the Olowalu section of the thoroughfare – going south past Olowalu Store – where for three-tenths-of-a-mile, new barricades have been fixed.

According to Caroline Sluyter, public information officer for the state Department of Transportation, “On September 2 and 3, Jersey barriers were placed along Honoapiilani Highway near MP 14 as a safety precaution. The highway shoulders in the area had been eroding for some time. However, the effects of Hurricane Iselle dramatically increased the erosion to the point that the pavement was becoming undermined, and the existing barriers were no longer effective. In addition to the barriers, temporary stone filled bags were placed to prevent further damage to the shore and the highway.”

Ferdinand Cajigal, the Hawaii DOT Engineering Program manager for the island of Maui, added to the conversation in an e-mail to West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker.

“The Jersey barriers were placed there to prevent errant vehicles from entering the ocean. Because the shoulders have eroded and pavement undermined, existing guardrails are no longer effective. While pre-hurricane telltale signs were obvious, Hurricane Iselle did quite a few damages along the shoreline at Olowalu. Stone filled bags were placed to prevent further damages to the shoreline and roadside (temporary).”

The project came as a surprise to West Siders.

Michele McLean, county deputy director of planning, explained, “Our understanding is that the work was performed under the governor’s emergency proclamation that was issued for Hurricane Iselle. This proclamation exempted State DOT from SMA (Special Management Area) permitting (HRS 205A).”

There are questions about the abrupt state action.

One local, asking to remain anonymous, exclaimed: “If a private landowner put up a seawall without permission or consulting with its neighbors like the state, they would face major consequences.”

Adeline “Aunty Addie” Rodrigues is one such neighbor. Her home is across the highway from where the obstacles to beach access have been installed.

“I was born here. I am 85 this year, 85,” the kupuna told the Lahaina News in an interview last week.

Rodrigues has witnessed a lot over the years.

“There’s a culvert. It is between mile 14 and the store. That culvert was built in the ’70s, I think Our home got flooded because the water couldn’t go into the ocean. That is why they built that culvert there.”

“I just noticed this past week that we cannot go there anymore,” Aunty Addie added, “because they had put the barriers right across it. I thought they were going to leave the barrier open, so you can drive your car; but you can’t do it. You can’t park there, nor can you go and fish. I used to see a lot of local people going there. Now you can’t go. You can’t go at all, and I just wondered why they had to close it off – put the barrier right there. They could have keep that place open. They are taking everything away.”

Aunty Addie is not blind to conditions, and it’s not because of “errant vehicles” either, she said. Nor, she stated, were there pre-existing barriers in that location: “The reason why they putting the barriers up is because the ocean is going underneath the road. I keep saying, if they don’t do anything, that road is going to collapse. It is going to collapse and now what?”

“We are now in the process of evaluating permanent repair options,” the DOT Maui engineer advised. “We have consultants to help us with this effort. Design should be completed in 10-12 months.”

Na Kupuna O Maui is not satisfied with that solution.

“We should seek resolution as a community before the state takes it all away under emergency proclamation. That’s their strategy; that’s how they act,” said Patty Nishiyama.