Erosion sets back beach, road work

  • photo courtesy of Terry Lilley

    Sandbags help with erosion in the Black Pot Beach Park area of Hanalei Bay.

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

  1. Uncleaina December 13, 2018 6:18 am Reply

    Did any of these people see that in Alaska they rebuilt a road that was in worse shape in just FOUR DAYS??! That’s because they actually DO stuff rather than sit around making plans to someday do something. The idea that now the solution is to implement the Ke’e Beach master plan and now ol Chip Fletcher from Oahu thinks we need to redesign the road to account for sea level change- just no! The best solution (which will never happen because of poor leadership) is to get millions of dollars from the State – probably $50 million or so- and get a huge workforce up there working around the clock (like they did in Alaska) and not make any changes yet. Just put it back like it was in April. Meanwhile the rest of the island suffers because all the tourists are now south side, east side etc. I genuinely laughed out loud when they predicted the work would be done by October ‘18. My best guess is June 2020…that’s how poor our leadership is.

  2. Da Shadow December 13, 2018 4:49 pm Reply

    Great points/observations UncleAina.
    This State is as mis-managed as a third-world country.
    Former Mayor Carvalho was so intent on ‘punishing’ vacation home owners, but it is back-firing in a huge loss of direct tax revenue, local workers out of work, and local businesses on the North Shore doing less business as tourists stay away.

    1. ana . December 14, 2018 9:31 am Reply

      Well, the situations are completely different. As Alaska’s road is inland and Weke road is a beach side road. This is not about leadership … this is basic science when it comes to mass wasting and erosion. The poor leadership you are speaking of is those who decided it was a good idea to fix an area (already prone to erosion) to its original state. I understand repairs need to be made and we are in the need of a plan…. but an affective plan would be to implement something that will work with nature rather than against it. I guess my degrees in Environmental Science taught me nothing …. and we should just comply to the demands to ignorant homeowners and cater to the needs of tourists who no nothing about the islands they travel to.

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