HDOT considering concrete barrier to shore up highway at Olowalu
OLOWALU – From the shoreline to the outer reaches of the reef, Olowalu is under siege, and the state is proposing to re-armor against the onslaught of the waves.
At a meeting held last Tuesday (May 19) in Lahaina at King Kamehameha III Elementary School, plans were introduced to conduct emergency repairs along a 1,200-foot stretch of Honoapiilani Highway between mileposts 13 and 15 to protect this section of Highway 30 from further erosion.
A technical design team of Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) engineers and administrators, in a slideshow presentation, outlined the suggested construction plans to a small gathering of concerned Olowalu and West Side residents, local shoreline specialists, marine biologists and developers.
Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie declared a disaster in a proclamation after Hurricane Iselle hit the islands in late summer 2014.
Then-HDOT information officer Caroline Sluder told the Lahaina News: “On September 2 and 3 (2014), 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.”
Obviously, these measures were ineffective; as, under that same executive emergency order, the HDOT, less than one year later, is back announcing plans for more Band-Aid work.
Simply, the proposal was explained: a new temporary mauka lane will be paved, shifting the traffic inland and then moving equipment onto the former makai lane to conduct the work. When the shoreline hardening is completed, traffic will be returned to the original two lanes, with some improvements added, like widening the shoulder and installing guardrails and better bike and pedestrian facilities.
Highway Administrator Ray McCormick stressed, “There’s nothing written in stone here. This is a preliminary meeting. This is just gathering input to let you know what we’re thinking. To let you know, we are concerned about that highway.”
“We got an erosion problem. From a highway standpoint, you know, our focus is to protect the road – protect it for the motoring public.
“But there is more to that highway than just a highway,” McCormick observed. “There is an ocean out there. There’s a shoreline. There’s a reef that’s just incredible. We want to be respectful of everything. That’s why we need you to give us input,” he told the interested parties at the weeknight meeting.
The HDOT prioritizes its projects.
“This one is ranking pretty high, right now,” McCormick advised, “because we do have a tendency to look at it and say, ‘Hey it’s coming up pretty close to that road.’ “
“There are several options underway,” McCormick continued. “There are some options that haven’t even been figured out yet for this. Some of the figures that I’ve looked at so far are upwards of $20 million.”
With all county and state permitting requirements suspended, the project could be fast-tracked through the local system; however, federal disclosures, reviews and permits are in force, including the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, U.S. Department of Transportation Act and Endangered Species Act.
Construction along the busy two-lane roadway is forecast to commence mid-2016 and should take approximately one year to complete.
For the past four decades, shoreline hardening, at a great cost to taxpayers, has been the signature Band-Aid fix utilized by the HDOT to address sea level rise and beach recession along the only public corridor leading into West Maui from the south. Mostly, it hasn’t worked.
Dr. Chip Fletcher is a professor at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. Through numerous studies and surveys, he has tracked the loss of shoreline in the state and along Highway 30 over the years.
“I hope the state is considering a federal grant to either raise the road or relocate it. It is not economical nor forward-looking to continue emergency repairs; and, as we know, armoring the coast adjacent to a beach experiencing chronic erosion will result in beach loss,” he said.
Jim Riley of West Maui Land Company testified, “This is not an emergency that is caused by some recent storm or hurricane that didn’t hit the island of Maui. This has been happening for an extended long period of time.
“There’s been a plan to relocate this highway to a mauka corridor for an eight- to 12-year time frame, of which very, very little is being done,” the developer added about this controversial plan.
“The highway at the present time may constitute an emergency; I don’t know whether it does or not, but it’s not related to recent storms.
“The hardening of the shoreline is exactly the wrong solution,” Riley emphasized. “You are permanently eliminating that length of shoreline for any future recreation or any other shoreline use. That should be the very last, last and last solution to this problem.”
Riley recommended reallocating the monies earmarked for this project to relocating the highway mauka: “You should get on a horse, get that project going – not wait three, five, seven years. Solve it by building the mauka highway. Don’t solve it by ruining the shoreline forever, ever and ever.”
Eddie Kaahui has resided in the village for over 75 years.
“Don’t waste your guys’ money anymore,” the local resident advised. “Stop the project Let the road drop in the ocean; let it fall. This road wasn’t eroded by the last storm.”
His description of the state’s repeated knee-jerk response to shoreline erosion was literal: “I am going to put one Band-Aid on top of that picture over there (a map of the project area); and next year, we’re going to have another Band-Aid. Then it’s going to be one Band-Aid all the way down (the coastline),” he commented.
Other options were suggested, but the Olowalu Village community vehemently rejected the idea to transition traffic to the parallel cane haul road.
Alex Dreher spoke on their behalf: “It’s a quiet, old-school area; live on a dirt road. I’d like to keep it that way. We don’t want traffic whizzing by our homes at 55 mph. We have children and animals. We have homes located right next to the village road.
“If you’re gonna stick the highway right in front of our homes – that’s not gonna help any of us that live in the village. I’m more in favor of what you have proposed here, even though it is a Band-Aid until you can move the highway mauka.”
The cost to relocate the highway is $800 million.
“HDOT continues to state that it would take too much money and take too long to relocate the highway. That’s probably true if they did it all at once; yet, they are doing so incrementally most every time they construct shoreline hardening,” said coastal planner Thorne Abbott.
The concept of relocation has been on the state radar screen since 1992, at least, in a study conducted by Fletcher and colleague Dennis J. Hwang for the Office of State Planning.
At Punahoa Beach south of Lahaina, they wrote, “Severe erosion threatens the highway, now protected with combined temporary and permanent structures. Continued sea-level rise will lead to more permanent structures and eventual beach loss here. Instead the highway could be relocated.”
Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration has been supportive of efforts to move the highway, Abbott reminded the Lahaina News.
“The county purchased a 1.5-mile long, 600 feet deep parcel at Ukumehame around 2006. This was done specifically to relocate the highway inland and out of the flood and tsunami zones while simultaneously creating the first portion of the Pali to Puamana coastal park. Just think how much more pleasant it would be to camp, and how much safer it would be for keiki, if the current busy traffic stream were moved well-inland and uphill from the coastline,” he noted.
Dr. Mark Deakos, director of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, reminded the gathering of the sensitive ecosystem directly adjacent to the vital artery.
“Immediately offshore of this project site is the Olowalu reef – a 1,000-acre, six-mile stretch of reef from Olowalu to the Pali, now considered one of the most important healthy reefs left in Maui Nui and possibly in the state,” he said.
“However, the inshore reef is already suffering from land-based sediment loading that suffocates the reef, blocking access to the sun for energy needs and creating a soft bottom that doesn’t allow new corals’ larvae to settle and grow.
“Now with new proposed seawalls at Olowalu and Ukumehame,” Deakos explained, “this will lead to additional sediment loading on the offshore reef, as was seen from the 2012 Ukumehame seawall project that left a large mud plume over the reef for a period of months. The terrestrial silt 500 yards offshore of that project can be two feet thick in places and six inches thick half a mile offshore, where a second, deeper reef exists.
“To think that HDOT can build a 1,200-foot seawall by digging a few feet inshore of the waterline and not have an impact on the water quality is unrealistic. The problem with sediment is that once it’s there, it continues to get re-suspended with each new wave event. It’s the killer that keeps on killing,” Deakos warned.
McCormick thanked attendees for sharing their concerns. “We are listening. We’ll be back,” he said.
The public can e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Deakos, “At a reef forensics training workshop in Olowalu, many were shocked to find that the coral recently named the ‘oldest living coral measured in the main Hawaiian Islands’ by USGS had no new developing coral colonies surrounding it, because of the terrestrial sediment that lines the bottom.”
(Next week: More about the observations logged at the forensic audit, its impact and the supporting Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.)