LIHUE — An ongoing million-dollar project to fix Weke Road and the surrounding Black Pot Beach Park area is already starting to erode now that the winter’s big swells have arrived.
County Department of Public Works Deputy County Engineer Lyle Tabata on Tuesday confirmed “there were some minor erosion repairs to the completed project work” of the Weke Road project, after big swells carried sand back into the bay.
And it’s making some residents question the planning of the project, the purpose of which is to rebuild the area after April floods washed out the road, dumping restrooms and vehicles into the river.
“The surf has removed much of the beach that was rebuilt by the county a few months back,” said Terry Lilley, who routinely documents environmental conditions of the bay and surrounding area. “Much of their dredged material is getting washed away.”
On the other side of the bay near Waipa, trees have fallen into the nearshore surf and the beach is nearly gone, with erosion creeping close to Kuhio Highway.
The seasonal extreme erosion isn’t abnormal — experts say Kauai has always had extra dynamic beaches — but long-term models point to trends of sea level rise and increased erosion that will eventually eat away available shorelines.
In September, Tabata said the project is meant to “restore elevations of Weke Road and the shoreline to what they were prior to the flood in April,” with the intention to restore the area’s floodplain to “be similar to how it was prior to the flood.”
Tuesday, Tabata said: “The emergency work for Black Pot Park and Weke Road restoration work is to repair storm-damaged facilities to the public in an expedited manner. Long-term studies and plans will follow.”
But, researchers are saying the time to redesign is now because the combination of sea level rise, and a likely increase in high rainfall events due to climate change means there’s a good chance of a repeat flood if the area is restored to how it was before the flood.
“Immediately following a disaster like this is a great time to re-engineer some infrastructure,” said Chip Fletcher, a researcher with the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
Fletcher has been working alongside other partners in UH, with the state and with the County of Kauai to address adaptation to sea level rise and Monday was headed to a meeting on the Westside to address vulnerabilities with the community.
He said it’s too early to tell whether this winter’s big swells are coming on strong a little earlier than usual and whether that’s associated with climate change — but he’d like to find out.
“We haven’t interrogated the data with regard to that question,” Fletcher said from the Honolulu airport on Monday, headed to Kauai. “I have it on my to-do list to have a student take a look at any acceleration in rate of shoreline change.”
He said the problem with Kauai beaches is that the natural process of large-swell and seasonal erosion is so strong that it tends to “overwhelm any signal coming from long-term sea level rise.”
Still, within the first few weeks of big swells, areas like Waipa are seeing erosion creep closer to important roadways and bridges, and beaches are starting to disappear.
“We really need a long-term plan due to the increase in storms and sea level rise,” Lilley said. “The trees (at Waipa) need to be removed so they do not wash out onto the reef.”
And in the meantime, scientists are saying high rainfall events like the one in April are going to occur more frequently, and that people need to be prepared.
“April was a warning,” Fletcher said. “This type of event is likely to recur. What we used to see as 100-year-floods are occurring with greater frequency.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.