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Residents concerned about highway seawalls planned north and south of Olowalu

By Staff | Aug 18, 2016

WEST MAUI – There’s no hiding the facts – Honoapiilani Highway between Puamana and the Pali is a danger to both human and marine life.

With the shoreline littered with rusted and crusted jersey barriers and waves crashing into the path of oncoming traffic, turning a blind eye on the problem isn’t possible anymore. The once picturesque drive connecting West Maui to the rest of the island is scenic no more.

With two new state projects to buttress the shoreline on the starting block, both north and south of Olowalu, the community is in an uproar, bringing together a powerful cross section of voices advocating for realignment.

Petitions have been drafted, social media sites launched and the topic was added to the agenda of the recently formed Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Dr. Mark Deakos, marine scientist and founder of the Hawaii Association of Marine Education and Research, has been at the forefront of the lobbying campaign to protect our coastal resources.

On a petition posted online at change.org, he wrote: “Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) is now planning to break ground on a $3.2M shoreline armoring project near mile marker 16 (north Olowalu near the popular surf spot) in mid-August 2016, and a $20M seawall is currently being planned by HDOT near mile marker 14 (south Olowalu near the world famous snorkel spot and endangered monk seal haul out beach).

“This amounts to nearly $40M of taxpayer money going to seawalls, blocking public beach access and supporting the destruction of beaches, coral reefs and coastal habitat, while decreasing the safety of motorists.

“A seawall constructed along a 2-mile stretch of Olowalu would all but destroy the area’s remaining beach. This would significantly impact local beach access and coastal resources,” he warned.

The nonprofit Maui Tomorrow cut to the chase in this post on Facebook: “Maui Tomorrow has been coordinating with other environmental groups and with concerned citizens to address the hardening of shorelines in West Maui between the Pali and Puamana.

“Hardening of shorelines has already resulted in the silting of reefs and restriction of shoreline access at Ukumehame and Launiupoko. We testified at the July 18th meeting of the Maui Metropolitan Planning Office and asked Department of Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami to hold off on the 900-foot long boulder revetment project that would extend 40 feet offshore just north of Olowalu at Milepost 16 near the Awalua surf break.”

The Marine and Coastal Zone Advocacy Council (MACZAC) wrote to Fuchigami, director of the HDOT, in October 2015; and, according to Councilwoman Donna Brown, the 12-member, volunteer advisory group, established by statute to advise the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Office of Planning on coastal and marine issues, has not been dignified with a response.

The letter signed by the council chair, Susan A. Sakai, reads: “Due to sea level rise and island subsidence, the coastline along Honoapiilani Highway is suffering from severe erosion. This coastline is very popular for camping, fishing, surfing and diving. Seawalls constructed in the past few years are not keeping the ocean from inundating the highway. Most days at high tide, water overtops these walls onto the roadway.”

The MACZAC is also worried about the offshore environment.

“The community is increasingly concerned about additional impacts to the reef at Olowalu, which is one of the healthiest reefs on Maui. It is already impaired due to silt runoff and warming ocean temperatures causing the corals to bleach.”

MACZAC concurs with the county in its ongoing efforts to move the highway inland, with the purchase of land to support this strategy: “In the long run, realignment of the highway will be a permanent fix to the problem of chronic erosion and will preserve our beaches for the future.”

On the other hand, building more seawalls. Sakai wrote, will result in the “permanent loss of access to these important cultural and recreational areas.”

West Maui Land has joined forces in favor of the argument to protect the marine environment through realignment.

Mariah Gill is their advocate in this regard.

She is a self-proclaimed “Lahaina Girl” who went to Yale, earning a Masters in Environmental Management.

In an interview with Lahaina News, she said, “Seawalls in general are not a good option for West Maui’s coastline, primarily because there is open land behind it. When you have infrastructure, it gets more complicated.

“Between the Pali and Olowalu,” Gill continued, “you have nothing behind the highway; you can easily retreat, which is the recommended alternative in my opinion.”

Her current focus, she said, “is to continue raising awareness about the two planned coastal armoring projects in Olowalu, and I’ve been asking for photos and videos of instances where waves, water and debris washes onto the highway or other unsafe situations between the Pali and Olowalu. The SDOT-Maui guys have asked me to gather and document these proofs of highway failure to help build their case to upper administration on Oahu.”

E-mail photos and videos to info@realignhonoapiilani.com or share on Facebook at Save West Maui’s Coastline. Write a letter to Ford Fuchigami, Director of Transportation, 869 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813, or sign the petition posted on Mark Deakos’ Facebook page.

Do we want to continue to save the highway at the expense of our shoreline?