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State hears public concerns over highway seawalls

By Staff | Sep 22, 2016

A wave slams into the seawall at Ukumehame and splashes onto Honoapiilani Highway. This picture was taken last week and posted on Facebook.

WEST MAUI – Driving to Lahaina is a gamble these days, with Honoapi’ilani Highway, between Puamana and the Pali, under attack from fire, flooding, landslides, reckless drivers, road closures, sinkholes, seawalls, high tides, waves and gridlock.

But now a positive, enlightened force has come forward to lead the way and forge a new path.

“Occupy Olowalu,” a West Side social media phenom, has taken a stand. For the past week (as of deadline Sept. 19), the determined activists have camped out on the shoreline just south of Awalua, and miraculously their messages, posted on signs along the roadside and on Facebook, are being heard: #nomoreseawalls, #protectourshorelines, #movetheroad.

And the crusade is charging ahead at breakneck speed – “Hawaii Time,” that is.

Early August, posts from scientist Mark Deakos of the Hawaii Association of Marine Education and Research warned: “A $3.2M armoring project at the North end of Olowalu (surf spot) is planned for mid-August and a $20M 1,600-foot seawall at the south end of Olowalu (famous Mile Marker 14 snorkel spot and monk seal haul out area) is planned within the next year.

“If we allow these to continue our Pali to Puamana Parkway Plan will be a Pali to Puamana seawall with no beaches, no beach access, dead reefs, and motorists will remain in harm’s way dodging the waves toppling over the seawalls.”

On Aug. 18, Maui Tomorrow and community leaders Tiare Lawrence, Frank Caprioni and Archie Kalepa filed a lawsuit in Environmental Court in an attempt to roadblock other shoreline armoring projects that don’t work.

“The Hawaii Dept. Of Transportation prepared a separate environmental assessment for this north Olowalu segment of the larger Honoapi’ilani Highway Shoreline Hardening Project in 2010. Separate environmental assessments or emergency proclamations have been issued for several projects between the Pali and Puamana, in spite of the fact that the DOT has been planning these projects since at least 2003. This type of segmentation is illegal under state and federal law,” Maui Tomorrow posted on Caprioni’s Facebook page.

At the same time, the court was asked to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the bouldering work near Mile Marker 16.

Judge Joseph E. Cardoza was assigned the case.

According to Albert Perez, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, a hearing on the injunction is slated for Nov. 9.

“(We’re) awaiting (the) judge’s response for (a) TRO (Temporary Restraining Order),” he added.

With construction cones placed and signage posted, the contractor, Goodfellow Bros., was prepped to start work.

Lawrence issued a call to action on Sept. 12: “Come join us at Olowalu this week. Will be camping, and we hope to delay any construction from happening. Come sign wave a.m./p.m. rush hour time, stop by, or camp overnight.

“If you care about protecting our beaches for future generations, then now is the time for you to get involved. The more people the more powerful our message is.”

Politicians, both in office and on the ballot, joined the growing crowd along the shoreline at Olowalu during the week.

Deakos proclaimed on Sept. 14: “We are reaching critical mass, decision-makers are starting to pay attention!”

Deakos was right.

On Friday, Sept. 16, West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey (10th District) and Kihei County Councilman Don Couch added their two cents.

McKelvey wrote to Gov. David Ige, “This letter is to respectfully request that you direct the Department of Transportation to delay construction of any seawalls or placement of boulders makai of Honoapiilani Highway near Olowalu, on the island of Maui, to allow time for relevant government agencies and community stakeholders to review the potential impacts of that construction and evaluate possible remedies.”

Couch jumped in as well on Friday, with a request to Ige for an immediate 60-day moratorium.

On Sunday night, the story continued to evolve.

Deakos posted last minute: “Ford Fuchigami (director of Dept. Of Transportation) is doing a site visit to Olowalu tomorrow morning (Monday, Sept. 19). He is very receptive to alternative solutions and will make a decision to suspend the armoring project after his visit.

“He will be accompanied by many experts, who will demonstrate the more cost effective solutions available that protect the coastline, public and cultural use, and get motorists out of harm’s way.

“His decision will set precedent for all future seawalls along this highway, including the 1,600-foot, $20M seawall slated for south Olowalu.

“The clincher will be the turn out of peaceful, public support for an alternative solution and for protecting our coastline.”

Monday morning (Sept. 19), Lahaina News deadline at 9 a.m.: #messageheard.