Maui community scrambles to save a cemetery washing away - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Maui community scrambles to save a cemetery washing away

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(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
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(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
PAIA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The growing threat of coastal erosion is taking a toll on dozens of properties on Maui, including a cemetery at an historic site.

Gravestones in the oldest section of the cemetery at the Paia Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission are slipping into the ocean. The erosion has drastically accelerated in the last few years, according to temple members. They've already retrieved at least 150 headstones from the waves with the help of community volunteers.

"Some of the families are no longer with us anymore. We lost contact with them so it has been difficult," said Eric Moto, president of the temple's board.

The coastline has dramatically changed since the mission was founded in 1906. The temple building is now within 30 feet of the water's edge and may have to be moved. Members recently hired a consultant to come up with possible solutions for the property which has 400 feet of shoreline.

"Reinterring some of these graves is probably something that will have to happen fairly soon, but that in itself is a historical property so you have historical issues," said Maria Isotov, the land use planning consultant hired by the temple.

Erosion is impacting regions all around the Valley Isle. 

"Relative to the other islands of Oahu and Kauai with lots of sandy beaches, we have the highest rates of erosion and we have the largest amount of beach loss," said Tara Owens, a coastal geologist with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program on Maui.

Nine condominiums along the West Maui shoreline in Kahana are imminently threatened, according to Owens.

Waves are coming within 5 feet of the corner of one building. Owens said the properties developed a cost-sharing agreement and are working together on starting an Environmental Impact Statement for a beach restoration project. 

"Over the last two years, we've been doing a lot of outreach trying to reach all 1,000 owners in Kahana and get them to collaborate toward a regional erosion mitigation solution," said Owens.

For the Paia mission, members hope to protect the rest of their property, but coming up with a solution will be complicated and costly. 

"We all looked at each other thinking we've got to do something. The task was daunting -- the scope and scale and the financial burden -- but I'm glad we got started," Moto said.

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