Rep. Cynthia Thielen: Saving Sand Dunes


It is ironic that a few home builders, expecting to live a life in paradise, actually threaten their own vision with irresponsible construction that destroys vital coastal dunes.

Coastal dunes act as flexible barriers to ocean storm surges and waves, protect low-lying backshore areas, and serve as sand reservoirs for beach nourishment. However, coastal dunes are highly sensitive to human activities and require limited interaction with humans to ensure their preservation.

As Hawaii’s shorelines have become increasingly developed with beachfront residential communities, shoreline specialists have been reexamining shoreline setbacks as a mechanism to preserve Hawaii’s beaches.

Kauai has set an excellent example for the entire state by adopting a strong setback ordinance: on the Garden Isle, the setback is 40 feet from the certified shoreline plus 70 times the annual erosion rate. For properties with larger buildings (greater than 5,000 square feet), the setback is 40 feet plus 100 times the annual erosion rate. Not only is this the strongest shoreline setback in the state, it is among the strongest in the nation!

However, current statewide regulations for coastal construction projects do not take sea level rise into account, a growing problem for shoreline communities which rely on natural barriers such as sand dunes for environmental protection and stability.

Fortunately, newly introduced House Bill 1537 directly addresses the shoreline issue for the entire State of Hawaii. The bill purposes to implement a permit program for Oahu’s shoreline construction and enables project managers to anticipate the long-term environmental hazard of sea level rise and its relationship with vital sand dunes.

With Hawaii currently facing sea level increases of 1.46 millimeters per year, HB 1537 allows experts to anticipate this environmental threat and will protect Hawaii’s shoreline, one of our state’s most valuable assets.

I will continue to work with shoreline specialists, the community, and my fellow legislators to ensure that our beaches – in Kailua, and across the State – are preserved and enjoyed by all in the years to come.

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