The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled that Waikiki apartment and condominium owners cannot sue the State of Hawaii to pay for the repair of an 80-year-old seawall.

The Gold Coast Neighborhood Association v. State of Hawaii case, was filed in 2007 by the Gold Coast Neighborhood Association. The association represents condo owners, renters and others in the neighborhood is a cohort of members who own, reside or work in the neighborhood.

“We are pleased the Court affirmed our position that the courts are not the proper place to decide how taxpayer money is spent. The State will repair the seawalls if and only if money to do so is appropriated by the state legislature and allocated by the governor,”  state Attorney General Doug Chin said in a press release.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Friday that Waikiki residents couldn’t force the state to pay to repair a Gold Coast seawall that is missing portions of railing and has an eroded walkway. Annabelle Le Jeune/Civil Beat

The associations’ request for the state to pay their attorney fees for the 10-year case was also denied by the court on Friday.

The seawall that stretches a few blocks along the beach off Kalakaua Avenue was built along what is known as Waikiki’s Gold Coast to protect private property from erosion and wave damage.

 The seawall also provides public access for surfers, swimmers and fishermen. Missing rails, cracked flooring and a rusted structure have raised concerns about the safety of people walking along the seawall.

In 2006, the Gold Coast Neighborhood Association lobbied the Legislature for funding to repair and maintain the seawall.

The Legislature appropriated $2 million dollars for the state to repair the wall. However, the Department of Land and Natural Resources refused to spend taxpayer money on the wall, claiming the Gold Coast neighbors were responsible for repairs, according to court documents.

A portion of the Gold Coast seawall that has no railing. The edge drops off into shallow water, rocks and reef. Annabelle Le Jeune/Civil Beat

“We never asked the state to repair or spend money. We asked the court to get the state to claim legal obligation,” said Robert Klein, attorney for the Gold Coast Neighborhood Association.

While the Gold Coast neighbors own the wall, the court ruled that the state owns an easement along the top of the seawall, making the state and the Golden Coast neighbors co-owners of the wall.

The state has assumed maintenance of the seawall for decades, including repairs from Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Public access holds the state liable for proper safety and maintenance, Klein said.

The Gold Coast Neighborhood Association is expected to lobby for seawall maintenance funding during the next state legislative session.

A damaged edge of the Gold Coast seawall, with rusted rebar exposed. Annabelle Le Jeune/Civil Beat

Legislators “will hopefully at least study and allow the state to get a contractor to repair the wall,” Klein said.

Repair and maintenance of the wall is not expected to disrupt the beaches or the environment.

“It’s fair to say that any existing improvements in its current footprint would not change any of the impacts of reflecting waves or anything like that,” said Dolan Eversole, Waikiki Beach management coordinator. “It’s in everyone’s interest to maintain the wall.”

The poor shape of the wall does not stop beachgoers like Eversole, who often walks the seawall of the Gold Coast with his kids to access south shore surf breaks.

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