Lawsuit seeks to halt DOT shoreline armoring projects along highway
WEST MAUI – The Maui Tomorrow Foundation and three individual plaintiffs on Aug. 18 filed a lawsuit in Environmental Court seeking to stop a coordinated series of shoreline armoring projects that the Hawaii Department of Transportation has been pursuing individually for more than a decade.
Maui Tomorrow also asked Judge Joseph E. Cardoza to grant a preliminary injunction that would halt the installation of a boulder revetment near Mile Marker 16 on Honoapiilani Highway until the court can make a final determination on the merits of the case.
The boulder revetment, which would be 900 feet long and extend up to 40 feet offshore, is one segment of a larger Honoapiilani Highway Shoreline Hardening Project that extends from Launiupoko to Ukumehame. This larger project also includes a 1,200-foot seawall between Mile Markers 13 and 15.
According to Albert Perez, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, “The Mile Marker 16 segment, the Mile Marker 13-15 segment and earlier seawall construction at Launiupoko and Ukumehame constitute improper segmented actions of the larger Honoapiilani Highway Shoreline Hardening Project, which has been planned since at least 2003. The Hawaii Environmental Policy Act requires the Department of Transportation to properly assess the cumulative impacts of all segments of its project prior to decision-making or construction on any segment of the project. The public interest supports complete and proper environmental review.
“We have already seen significant adverse impacts to the offshore and nearshore coastal ecosystem, including the loss of beaches used as resting areas by the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Access to the shoreline for recreational, gathering and traditional and customary practices and activities has become increasingly restricted, and the view of the nearshore area behind the seawalls has been eliminated. Hardening the shoreline is known to cause these types of adverse impacts and is a temporary solution given ongoing sea level rise. The DOT needs to stop wasting our tax money on these outdated solutions and move the road inland. Since money for realignment of the entire stretch from Olowalu to the Pali is not currently available, the portions of Honoapiilani Highway that are threatened by erosion should be moved first. In the case of the Mile Marker 16 segment, there is an existing cane haul road that the DOT already has emergency access to. Moving the road in this area will give the DOT sufficient time to fund and design the full realignment. The West Maui community relies on these beaches and associated precious natural resources and will join them in that effort.”
Plaintiff Archie Kalepa, a retired lifeguard, fisherman, professional surfer and all-around waterman, is also a well known crewmember and captain on the Hokule’a and other voyaging canoes.
The Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner said he has observed significant environmental impacts and erosion associated with areas of existing shoreline hardening along the West Maui coast, including along the Launiupoko and Ukumehame areas.
Kalepa said, “The shoreline hardening projects that have already gone in have affected several beautiful stretches of our coastline. Erosion is accelerated on both ends of the projects that they have completed. A 900-foot boulder revetment extending 40 feet offshore could interfere with sand movement along the shore, which could then interfere with the surf breaks at Olowalu and Awalua. Protection of our nearshore resources, coral reefs and beaches is an ongoing cultural practice that we need to pass on to future generations. We need to get smart and move the road inland.”
Tiare Lawrence and her family are Native Hawaiian lineal descendants of the Olowalu and Lahaina areas. She is a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner whose practices include beach camping, fishing, surfing, diving, paddling and other ocean-going and nearshore activities at Olowalu and along the Lahaina coast.
This area is also a burial ground for her family, many of whom have been put to rest on the shores of Olowalu.
According to Lawrence, “These bouldering and seawall projects will significantly and adversely impact areas where my family and I exercise cultural and recreational practices, including three surf breaks at Awalua, shell-collecting grounds and areas where we practice pole-fishing, diving and throw-net fishing.”
Frank Caprioni, a resident of Olowalu, grew up in the area. He frequently dives, fishes and surfs off the West Maui coast. He said he has observed significant adverse impacts from previous shoreline projects.
Caprioni said, “The reef offshore of the completed seawall projects is devastated. The DOT has known about this problem for years, and they could have moved the road by now instead of wasting money on seawalls that are already getting damaged and having to be repaired.
“When the swell comes up, the waves are crashing over the seawalls, and drivers are going into the oncoming lanes to avoid having their cars drenched with salt water. Somebody is going to get killed, and the DOT will be responsible. This is a major problem that people need to know about. Fighting sea level rise is a losing battle. They need to stop hardening our shoreline and move the road as soon as possible.”
Dr. Chip Fletcher, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said West Maui faces challenges due to sea level rise.
“A well-established body of published scientific research clearly documents that global sea level is rising, the rate of rise has accelerated over the past century, and is expected to continue accelerating in the future,” Fletcher noted.
“The West Maui community, along with coastal communities around the world, are wrestling with the implications of this situation and are vigorously working to find the right mix of approaches that minimizes environmental damage, maximizes affordability and public safety and preserves traditional uses. These are challenging times, and decisions made today will have impacts far into the future and determine the type of world we leave for our children.”
Kalepa, Lawrence and Caprioni said that they have each observed Hawaiian monk seals on the beach and in the nearshore waters fronting the projects in the last year.
This species is listed as “endangered” in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Only 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals are estimated to remain in the wild.
Perez said, “The tragic irony is that the habitat of this highly endangered species is being destroyed during the IUCN World Conservation Congress that is being held here in Hawaii over the next couple of weeks. We call on Governor David Ige and the Hawaii DOT to stop this travesty and work with the community to realign portions of the highway that are threatened by erosion as soon as possible.”
Dr. Mark Deakos, executive director and founder of the nonprofit Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, has been monitoring the impact of the new seawalls along Honoapiilani Highway.
He said the shoreline hardening structures are destructive to the marine environment nearby.
“In one week, Hawaii will be hosting the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Hawaii will be on the world stage, demonstrating our commitment to protecting our natural world. To be honest, I hope the world doesn’t pull the curtain back too far to see that here on Maui, almost all streams and coastal waters fail to meet Department of Health standards, our coral reefs have declined by more that 25 percent in the past decade, our fisheries have collapsed, there is no curbside recycling program, we are cutting our hazardous waste recycling program, and DOT continues to pour concrete along our beaches for more seawalls,” he commented.
“Since the disastrous $7,000,000 Ukumehame seawall, paid for with taxpayer money in 2012, which destroyed the beach, lifted a sediment plume over the reef for months and resulted in increased wave energy now toppling over the seawall, threatening motorists, we have pleaded with the Hawaii Department of Transportation to stop these destructive practices and focus on retreating the road. These discussions over the past two years have been in vain, as DOT moved forward with the addition of two more seawalls costing over $9,000,000 and now preparing for two armoring projects at Olowalu that could cost over $30,000,000 of taxpayer dollars,” Deakos continued.
“I’m hopeful that with this lawsuit, DOT will now finally have to explain why they are spending taxpayer money to destroy beaches and irreplaceable natural resources, why they are using emergency disaster proclamations to bypass critical environmental reviews, and why they continue to dismiss more cost-effective, sustainable solutions. The sad irony is that DOT actually moves the highway inland for these projects in order to do the construction, only to move the road back into harm’s way. I dread the day that I have to explain to my grandchildren why there are no beaches, reefs, fish and corals for them to enjoy, and somehow justify why my generation squandered it all.”