LIHU‘E — Coastal erosion has already gone beneath the multi-purpose Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path at Wailua Beach, and the county knew that might happen.
“When we built the path along Wailua Beach, we knew it was subject to coastal erosion, even though the studies show that beach is accreting and growing,” said Doug Haigh of the county Department of Public Works, project manager for the path.
“We know there are extreme episodic events,” he said.
But members of the Kaua‘i County Council expressed concern that this example of coastal erosion — and that to the path at Lydgate Park due to storm water — can happen anywhere on the path.
Mitigation efforts and more-responsible building, councilmembers suggested, should be looked into.
The resolution on the table at the council’s March 11 meeting that sparked this discussion is for condemnation to acquire an easement by eminent domain fronting Islander on the Beach in Waipouli, for inclusion in the path.
The purchase of the easement at the offered $24,300 price has been approved by Islander on the Beach board of directors. However, the board does not have the authority to sign easement documents, according to a memo from Acting County Engineer Troy Tanigawa. That requires signatures by all unit owners.
“With over 270 units, it is not practical to process easement documents with signatures by all the owners, and the Islander on the Beach board of directors do not object to processing the easements by condemnation,” Tanigawa wrote.
This land that crosses the Islander on the Beach is already being traversed by the public, Haigh said, but is not fully accessible since it is unpaved.
Council Vice Chair Mason Chock expressed concern for the county purchasing properties that may be affected by sea-level rise, and wondered if there could be a contingency plan and possible mitigation efforts written into contracts.
Chock said it could be “counterproductive” to develop lands with taxpayer money that may not last.
“This (path) is important for our public for access, but we cannot continue to pay for them and not have them in the short-term, 10 years or so,” Chock said.
Haigh pointed to a recent erosion study that showed at its “narrowest corner” the path has over a 50-year life span.
“We all acknowledge there’s sea-level rise, and that erosion rate, the 50 years will probably get shortened, but nobody knows how much shorter,” Haigh said.
Mel Rapozo, a former councilmember, presented testimony calling for the council to reject efforts for the county to put a concrete structure, which can lead to elevated rates of erosion. An unimproved path, Rapozo suggested, may be a middle-ground solution.
“I was never against the bike path” when he was on the council, he said. “I was against constructing any hardened structure along the coast,” Rapozo said. “As we can see now, with erosion happening along that corridor, there are segments of the bike path that are in danger, which was predicted years ago.”
Recent erosion has wiped out a former parking area at Wailua Beach Park, next to the Kuhio Highway bridge over the Wailua River, and trees, rocks and sand have been swept into the ocean. Sections of the bike path are in danger.
Rapozo warned of having to use taxpayer money on future repairs that “should have never been built in the first place.”
“Many of you have made the trek along that coast and see the erosion happening. We have lost a lot of assets along Kapa‘a coast because of erosion, and that’s not going to stop,” Rapozo said.
The path is currently made up of concrete, due to minimum maintenance costs and accessibility, Haigh said.
Haigh said referring to concrete as a “hardened surface” as opposed to a “coastline improvement” gives a “false impression” because it implies the path would be hardening the shoreline. The county is not allowed to harden the shoreline to protect the path, per federal agreements.
Haigh defended the use of concrete.
“But I think we’re making the right decision to minimize county maintenance costs and get maximum public use, but still build it in a way if it does get damaged we can easily remove it and satisfy the coastal environment.”
Haigh explained to concerned members that state engineers were discussing mitigation to protect Kuhio Highway and the path in the Wailua area.
At the same meeting, the council received a legal document for a 2-foot-high, lava-rock separation privacy wall to mitigate the potential impact of the shared-use path adjacent to the Islander on the Beach, perpendicular to the coastline.
Haigh said the wall is set back from the coast, and will not impact erosion.
The design is still in process, Haigh said, and requested written questions from Councilmember Felicia Cowden to provide to the consultant to verify “responsible” design elements that could accommodate heavy rains and overgrowth of plants.
The resolution for condemnation is up for a public hearing on Wednesday, April 7.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.