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West Maui residents contribute observations to King Tides Project

By Staff | Jun 8, 2017

Branden Hazlet took photos at Olowalu during the King Tides event on Memorial Day weekend.

WEST MAUI – King Tides and gridlock – getting to and from West Maui was a challenge over Memorial Day weekend.

Photographs wallpapered Facebook pages, documenting conditions, while state Department of Transportation officials hid their heads in the sand.

DOT Director Ford Fuchigami, on the editorial page of The Maui News on May 16, seems to avoid responsibility for our multiple West Side traffic woes with the “no money” excuse, lauding the ongoing construction of the next phase of the Lahaina Bypass, 1B-2, a $38.6 million project extending Honoapiilani Highway a mere 2.7 miles down the road.

How long did it take to get that far? Will it create more problems than it will resolve?

Fuchigami’s mid-May op-ed also offered options to fix our asphalt lifeline, like more busses, bike share, intra-island ferry service and smart land planning, but he totally ignored the elephant in the room – or better said, the ocean in the road.

What do we do about that? Build another seawall that doesn’t work, foolishly spending millions upon millions, they claim we don’t have?

After last weekend, with the waves dangerously breaking over the concrete barriers – crashing onto passing vehicles – and high tides reaching across the vital two-laner, the ocean now bears witness, validating the “Move the Road” collective, credible and critical call.

Tara Owens is a valuable community resource. She is the coastal processes and hazards specialist with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, assigned to the County of Maui Planning Department.

Well in advance, the King Tides were predicted by the experts on paper, over the airwaves and on Facebook walls, and UH scientists asked for community contributions – photographs, videos and testimony – submitted to the Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Project.

Owens was pleased with the response.

“Those of us involved with our Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Project, we were pleasantly surprised with the high level of interest from the community, emergency responders and the media,” Owens advised.

The Lahaina News queried Owens about the data gathered along Honoapiilani Highway on May 26, 27, 28 and 29.

When asked about the most startling observation, she said: “It’s not surprising or unexpected, but actually seeing the water run over the highway at Olowalu is attention-grabbing and concerning.”

John Seebart agreed. He lives on Lower Honoapiilani Road in Kahana and sits on the steering committee for the Kahana Bay Condos for Filamon Sadang.

His contributions to the King Tides Project included high tide shots at Sands of Kahana, Kaanapali Beach Club, Front Street and Olowalu (check out his Facebook page).

Seebart expressed in a Facebook message to Lahaina News his genuine concern about the threatening conditions he witnessed at Olowalu.

“Obviously that road is the single highway serving us. Hurricane season is coming! If we were to experience a storm surge from such a storm, that road could easily be destroyed. HWY 30 needs to be moved uphill soon; it’s only a matter of time until it is destroyed.

“This would be a major economic disaster for the state, not to mention the real disaster people here on the Westside will experience. If the storm surge occurs in conjunction with a ‘King Tide,’ all bets are off. Even at low tide, a four-foot storm surge would exceed the sea level shown in my pictures.”

Branden Hazlet is the director of technology at Maui Prep. His alarm about the plight of our once-scenic shoreline is very real.

“Many of things that impact Honoapi’ilani traffic are things that happen suddenly and unexpectedly,” Hazlet said, “brushfires or crashes; but this caving in of the road from eroding infrastructure is different – it is entirely foreseeable.”

His description of a 40-foot segment along the corridor was dramatic: “… the road shoulder is waiting to crack off near Olowalu. In some sections, the steel guardrail is dangling and bouncing around as ambulances and buses of tourists drive over a road that has caves underneath it.”

“With all of the science pointing toward a steady rise in sea levels and our road already getting washed over by waves and caved out underneath, why is there even a question about whether we need to move the road? It seems so obvious, and as the pictures show, so urgent.”

Additionally, he questioned the environmental cost of past practice: “It seems so obvious that we need to move the road back, not move concrete further onto our beaches. Definitely not have heavy tractors digging up our shoreline, pouring cement and killing our struggling reefs – reefs in Olowalu that are known as some of the most remarkable around the state; crucial reefs that spawn fish for all Maui nui.”

With scientific studies underway, Owens and fellow UH scientists “continue to observe, document, learn to enable informed planning. I’d like to reemphasize that this important dataset will inform planning conversations and decisions based on real world data by and for the community.”

King Tides are projected again in late June and July, with water levels expected to be higher than on Memorial Day weekend’s surge.

More evidence will be gathered.

The public can view the accumulating records and join the Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Data set at ccsr.seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/king-tides.

Unfortunately, beyond the observations, stats, photos and videos, the big question remains unanswered: how will the state respond?

With another seawall, or will it move the road?