Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced a non-binding resolution to the Hawaii Senate on Thursday requesting that the Marine Corps complete an Environmental Impact Study on a proposed underground sea wall at its Puuloa Range Training Facility in Ewa Beach.
The “shoreline stabilization project” is intended to protect the rifle range from coastal erosion, but local residents and state officials have warned that it would protect the range while hastening the erosion of the beach itself.
The proposal would involve driving a “sheet pile” retaining wall 20 feet into the underlying bedrock. In 2019, Hawaii Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands administrator Sam Lemmo told Civil Beat the proposed project “represents another death knell to our beaches.”
But state officials have no power to stop it, and the Marine Corps has argued that it is not required to conduct an EIS. The military essentially answers to itself on proposed projects on federal land. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Corps would follow its own regulations and can grant itself an exemption on an EIS.
The Marines produced a less formal environmental assessment in 2015 conducted by Naval Facilities Engineering Command on its behalf with a “finding of no significant impact” and opened a public comment period in 2019, but local officials and residents have criticized both for lacking transparency.
A spokesman for Marine Corps Base Hawaii said no decision has been made on the issue.
“We recognize and take seriously our critical role as stewards of the environment at the Puuloa Range Training Facility,” Capt. Eric Abrams said in an e-mail. “At this time MCBH is taking a phased approach at assessing shoreline protection at PRTF.”
The resolution introduced Thursday noted that the Ewa Neighborhood Board was never formally notified of the project nor the public comment period, with most residents learning of it only after the comment period ended.
The 2015 assessment itself noted that the wall was “designed to prevent retreat of the landward region” it would protect and does “nothing to reduce erosion of the beach.” It acknowledged that the seawall “will likely result in the loss of sand beach” on sandy shorelines already suffering from long-term beach erosion.”
Opposition to the project has united an unlikely collection of local military veterans, environmental activists and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners.
Last year, the Surfrider Foundation proposed that the Marine Corps move the training range’s firing line back to protect both it and the beach.
The Ewa Beach is a habitat for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtles and has been a local fishing spot for generations.
Beyond the impacts on the beach and sealife, the resolution also notes concerns that prolonged “impact pile driving” has the potential to damage or even collapse parts of the coral and limestone on which the Ewa plain rests, creating sink holes and damaging the water table.
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.