Hawaii Sen. Clayton Hee is advocating for a new law that would create a park by Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore in an effort to address coastal erosion and get the state to move faster on long-held plans to fix traffic problems by the beach.
The proposal is one of two bills that the influential lawmaker introduced last week in response to destructive waves wearing away beaches the North Shore. The second bill sets aside money for University of Hawaii scientists to create a beach management plan to mitigate coastal erosion in the area.
Big waves in recent weeks have damaged homes in the neighborhood, highlighting the need for better state and county policies to respond to rising sea level and the continuing loss of sandy areas.
Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate are pushing for a bill that would require the state to analyze the potential effects of erosion in Hawaii, but Hee’s bills are more specific to problems on the North Shore.
The senator described his proposals during a press conference on Saturday in the sandy parking area across the street from Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach or Lani’s.
The parking lot is at the center of a lawsuit between several Hawaii residents and the state Department of Transportation.
The department blocked off the parking lot last month to improve traffic in the neighborhood, frustrating some residents and organizations like the Oahu Surfrider Foundation who argue that the state’s barriers limit beach access.
The conflict highlighted the department’s slow progress toward its goal of realigning Kamehemeha Highway, which shrinks to just two lanes along that beach.
Back in 2007, the department received $1.2 million to analyze traffic alternatives for the road, including the idea of a new park. But the money lapsed when the department didn’t move forward with the plan.
Seven years later, the DOT’s community advisory committee is still debating the issue. In the meantime, the road has become more congested and the beach has continued to erode.
Scientist Dolan Eversole from the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program said that Laniakea Beach could be washed away in as little as 20 to 30 years.
“If we leave everything as it is, we will probably lose the beach,” said Eversole, who also works with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. “We’re going to have to do something in the next five to 10 years.”
Hee’s plan would take several years to implement, but he said, “It won’t take nearly as many years as the Department of Transportation’s plans have been languishing.”
The DOT did not immediately respond to a Civil Beat request for comment over the weekend.
The plan would require that the state condemn property to create a new road mauka of the park, but Hee seemed confident that the only property owner who would be affected, Kamehameha Schools, would get on board.
“It’s not a surprise,” Hee said. “It really begins to put in motion what [the DOT] has been talking about for over a decade.”
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