The state Board of Land and Natural Resources has again denied a permit to allow the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art to dismantle a breakwater in front of its Kahala oceanfront museum Shangri La.

But the 4-2 vote Friday may still not be the final word, because the foundation requested a contested case before a hearings officer to appeal the denial, and also said it would push anew to transfer ownership of the shoreline section in question to the state.

Dismantling the breakwater, which was built in the late-1930s and runs parallel to a seawall, would turn the popular swimming cove known as Cromwell’s into a rocky shoreline.

The foundation wants to prevent thrill-seeking youths from jumping into the water from the seawall, which it said has led to a number of injuries and “three cases of paraplegia.”

View looking thru. Shangrila on Black Point. 13 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The rocky wall at right that forms a breakwater and created a unique swimming hole has become a liability for owners of the Shangri La Museum. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There’s been strong opposition to the project, which some community members see as the destruction of a beloved swimming cove. Several of them spoke at the meeting.

Board member Stanley Roehrig, who called for the motion to deny the permit, said the foundation should keep working with the community to find other solutions.

BLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case and board member Thomas Oi voted against the motion to deny the permit. Board member Samuel “Ohu” Gon III was absent for the vote.

“I honestly don’t understand what our legal authority is to deny this permit or our moral (authority),” Case said. “It’s an unsafe property and this landowner is trying to be responsible.”

Board of Land and Natural Resources member Stanley Roehrig opposed a project to dismantle a breakwater in Kahala. Natanya Friedheim/Civil Beat

The board initially voted last month to deny the permit, but took the issue up again over concerns that Oi had misunderstood what he was voting on.

Testifiers and some board members noted the state could claim ownership of the area, relieving the foundation of liability and allowing the swimming cove to remain intact.

The state owns a lot of dangerous coastal areas, “like Sandy Beach where you have 100 broken necks,” said Leigh Wai Doo.

“This whole issue is a lot of noise but the big picture is being missed, and the big picture is we’ve got to work it out with the state,” Wai Doo said. 

The foundation six years ago offered to give the coastal area to the state, but staff at the Department of Land and Natural Resources did not want to assume liability, said Yvonne Izu, the foundation’s lawyer.

“We met resistance from DLNR,” Izu said, adding the foundation’s “intent in turning it back to the state is not to sell it. It’s just to give it to you.”

Sam Lemmo of the DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands confirmed after the Friday meeting that the foundation had approached the state about transferring ownership, but would not elaborate on DLNR’s response to the offer. Most of Hawaii’s shorelines are public.

Konrad Ng, Shangri La’s executive director, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The foundation issued a statement late Friday that said: “Despite the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ refusal to allow the museum to improve safety at the shoreline, Shangri La will continue its ongoing efforts, which have been rejected to date, to give Cromwell’s back to the State of Hawaii, its rightful owner.”

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