Crumbling coastlines

Kauai’s multi-use path, Ke Ala Hele Makalae, is being threatened by coastal erosion, triggering community concern and some government action.

In the area in front of Pono Kai Resort in Kapaa, the ocean is creeping closer and closer, eating away the shoreline and creating sharp drop-offs just feet away from the path that is popular for seaside walks and bike rides.

Now, caution tape and orange cones block off that area next to the path, courtesy of the County of Kauai, which is working with the state on a sand-replenishment project in the area.

That project has been ongoing for years. County workers dredge sand from the nearby boat ramp, store it until they comply with water-quality regulations, and then fill in the eroded areas.

Some say that’s not enough, including Robert Breynaert, owner of a unit at Pono Kai. He’s created a website dedicated to the issue,, where he claims the state and county are both passing the buck and not addressing the real reason for the erosion — the seawall and jetty in the area.

“It’s due to improper work done by the state, building that seawall, but the real cause is the jetty that’s been there for 50 to 100 years,” Breynaert said. “They should remove it or extend the south end of the seawall to the jetty.”

The seawall was built after Hurricane Iniki, according to Sam Lemmo, administrator with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. It has broken down over the years due to chronic erosion, and was repaired in 2015.

Breynaert says the jetty and seawall contribute to the coastal erosion because they block the flow of sand that would naturally replenish the sand that the waves wash away. He advocates removing both of them completely.

Lemmo says that’s not going to help in the long run because there is a major and chronic erosion problem in the whole region.

“We would see a short-term benefit if you took the seawall out, but over time you’ll see erosion continue,” Lemmo said. “It would only have a short-term effect of improving the quality of the beach.”

State coastal erosion experts agree the current replenishment process is inefficient and expensive, but say sand replenishment is still the best solution.

Lemmo said current rules, permits and other red tape make it that way, and the department is looking at ways to streamline that process.

Sand that’s dredged from the Waikaea Canal has to be stored to comply with water-quality regulations, and then the replacement has to go through an individual permitting process that takes time.

“We’d like to bring the cost down by delving into the regulations and streamlining certain (projects), but anything we do can’t compromise the need to protect marine resources,” Lemmo said. “We’re still working on the nuts and bolts, but we need to bring down the cost of this.”

He also said the area would be a good candidate for a beach-restoration project, where sand is dredged from offshore and then mechanically delivered to the beach.

That’s also expensive and requires a long permitting process.

Meanwhile, Breynaert says it might only take one or two more storms to knock out the rest of the shoreline and for the ocean to start eroding the coastal path, and calls the sand-replenishment idea an “ineffective Band-Aid.”

“With rains in the past week the area has already eroded back a few more feet,” he said. “Now, in one place, it’s eight feet away from the bike path, and everyone walks the bike path.”

The coastal bike path on Kauai winds around the east side coastline and is heavily used by locals and visitors, alike.

That path isn’t the responsibility of the county or state, though the coastlines are under county jurisdiction and the seawall is the state’s responsibility. The nonprofit Kauai Path houses the project, and director Tommy Noyes said he’s familiar with the issue.

But he really only sees one way to win the battle for space between the path and the ocean. He indicated — but didn’t say — there’s a potential they’ll have to move the path to accommodate the sea’s new reach.

“The ocean will have its way and the best approach seems to be strategic retreat when needed,” Noyes said. “It wouldn’t be surprising to have retreat be the best (option).”

The first two of six phases of the path have been completed in the areas of Lydgate Park and from Kapaa to Kealia. It’s envisioned to be a 20-mile path that wraps around Kauai’s Eastside, from Niumalu to Anahola.

NOTE: Since this story was written in 2019, coastal erosion continues to threaten the Ke Ala Hele Makalae multi-use bike path on Kauai, and other fixtures along the Kauai coastline. Hawaii’s statewide problem of coastal erosion is still very much an issue in 2021. Some studies have been undertaken over the last few years to try and predict impacts of sea level rise and coastal erosion to local businesses, farmland, roads and way of life.

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published November 22, 2019.

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