Controversial seawall plan divides West Maui community

KAHANA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A plan to construct a seawall to save a West Maui condominium from erosion is dividing the community.

Crews expect to start building a hybrid seawall and rock revetment in April in front of the Hololani Resort along Kahana Bay.

Lea Stockhammer and her husband have lived on the property for 18 years.

"(The) ocean is so close to our building that we are terrified what is going to happen," she said. "Now, it is so dangerous."

Sandbags stacked up along the shoreline are a temporary solution. The new seawall will be 370-feet long and 12-feet high.

"We have such high hopes that this will work," said Stockhammer.

Nine condominiums along the bay are threatened by extreme erosion. Four properties have seawalls that were built decades ago.

In the final environmental assessment for the Hololani project, the consultant said the new structure is likely to have only minor impacts on a neighboring condo to the south.

According to supporters, the seawall is needed and appropriate for the Hololani. They also insist that the main factors causing the erosion are sea level rise and seasonal wave conditions.

Opponents of the project disagree and they fear the seawall will set a precedent for future shoreline armoring.

"If they are allowed to build their seawall, it will cause a domino effect down the beach," said Kai Nishiki, a member of a community organization called Na Papai Waewae Ulaula. "We know that seawalls destroy beaches, they destroy the reef, they destroy surf spots."

The Hololani and the eight other condominiums have agreed to share the cost of an Environmental Impact Statement for a separate project for regional beach nourishment.

A permit granted by the Maui Planning Commission in 2016 includes the condition that the Hololani remove the seawall once the nourishment is complete.

"I think the revetment was allowed because beach nourishment is a very viable alternative," said Michele McLean, deputy director of the Maui County Planning Department. "This revetment is not seen as a long-term solution."

Some longtime fishermen are still worried about the impact on marine resources.

"Yes, it may be temporary to save their buildings, but at what cost? The loss of our fishing ground," said Lahaina resident Glenn Kamaka.

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