Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, Same Old Politics

It's been awhile since I last posted, due to other professional responsibilities and lack of any real news on the beach access front to share. If you live in Hawaii, you've seen the TV and newspaper reports about houses on the North Shore that are in danger of being swept away by high surf as a result of beach erosion. What's been missing in those dramatic video shots and articles is any detailed discussion of accountability.

As I have been writing in this blog and elsewhere for over three years, Oahu's shoreline setback rules are dangerously shortsighted. The proof is what we're seeing on TV, happening before our very eyes. Yet it should come as no surprise to anyone living here since it's been going on in Kahala, Lanakai and around the island for decades. People build too close to the sea, which interferes with sand dunes and natural erosion/replenishment cycles. That leads to homeowners building seawalls or planting vegetation that hardens the shoreline break and hastens erosion further, until there is no beach left.

The only local news outlet to question existing shoreline setback policies is the Honolulu Civil Beat. Ian Lind wrote a piece about it, and today they ran a story about the county REJECTING federal funding for shoreline management purposes because they feel like there is too much paperwork and accountability that goes along with the money. And you wonder why nothing gets done to protect what beaches we have left? It's absolutely astounding that the Honolulu City Council accepts this rationale and sits on its hands with their heads stuck in the sand... except that sand is being washed out to sea, leaving their inaction exposed for the entire State to see.

Meanwhile, the other islands have said the fed reporting requirements aren't that onerous and are taking advantage of Oahu's idiotic rejection of funds -- if Honolulu doesn't use that money, they get more to work with. Here's the link to the Civil Beat piece.

Excerpts from today's article:
Every year, the City and County of Honolulu lets slide an opportunity to get more than a quarter of a million dollars in federal funding to promote sustainable coastal development. The funds, which the other three counties in Hawaii receive, is mostly used to hire staff to implement the Coastal Zone Management Act, which is federal legislation that was passed in 1972 to balance the needs of environmental conservation with coastal development. 

Honolulu county was receiving about $280,000 a year from the program until 2007, when Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting concluded that increased federal oversight and stricter reporting requirements were too onerous. “The funding comes with a lot of strings attached to it,” said George Atta, director for the county planning department. “It was creating a lot of headaches for us from an administrative standpoint.” 

Michele McLean, deputy director for the Maui County Planning Department, said, “It’s become such a routine thing for us in terms of the reporting. It really isn’t burdensome." Maui County receives $344,600 in funding from the program which it uses to fund four full-time positions. McLean, who called Oahu’s rejection of the funding “eyebrow raising,” said that Maui’s staff members deal with issues related to sea-level rise, coastal development and erosion. 

Atta insisted that the loss of funding does not impede the department’s ability to comply with federal and state regulations relating to coastal development. He said that other staff in the department’s land use permitting division have taken on the work required by the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Still, the lost funding would have equaled about one quarter of the $1.2 million annual budget of the land use permitting division for 2014. And though the county planning department hasn't sought such federal funding in recent years, it is requesting an increase in development fees, partly to cover coastal management activities on Oahu. 

Robert Harris, executive director for the Hawaii Sierra Club, said that the county’s rejection of the funds is indicative of the county’s general reluctance to address coastal development and erosion problems.

Whereas Maui and Kauai have been "relatively progressive" in trying to find the right balance and in planning for future erosion, "Oahu has been about the most adamant in believing those controls are unnecessary,” said Harris.

Statewide, 9 percent of Hawaii's beaches have been lost, mostly due to improperly located coastal development, according to a recent report from the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

On Oahu, between 30 and 40 percent of beaches have disappeared, mostly as a byproduct of efforts to protect private property from encroaching erosion, said Dolan Eversole, a coastal hazards specialist at the University of Hawaii. The main cause: erecting seawalls to save houses.

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