To combat rising sea levels, UH professors propose plans to redesign Hawaii’s infrastructure

Updated: Apr. 4, 2021 at 8:56 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s a race against time as University of Hawaii professors propose radical changes to prepare for rising ocean levels.

“We believe on Oahu and in Honolulu, there is an opportunity to plan for these things before a disaster hits,” said Judith Stilgenbauer, principal investigator and professor at UH Manoa’s School of Architecture.

“So, anticipating climate change rather than thinking of it as post disaster recovery, planning and design.”

Stilgenbauer, her team and students conducted a two-year study that investigated the past, present and future of Honolulu’s South Shore.

The study includes maps from the past 100 years that show just how much Honolulu has pushed the shoreline seaward by filling the land.

“And now the ocean is coming back and sort of reclaiming this land, and we need to prepare for that. We can’t just give up,” said Dr. Chip Fletcher, associate dean of Academic Affairs of the School of Ocean, Earth Science and Technology at UH Manoa.

Embracing sea level rise would greatly change Oahu’s coasts, including moving highways inland, allowing for more waterways and redesigning the urban landscape.

“It was really important to us to showcase in this project that there is an opportunity here to improve our public waterfront along the urban center of Honolulu,” Stilgenbauer said. “And rather than just doing flood protection alone, but also sea level rise mitigation and adaptation.”

While President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan is awaiting approval from Congress, Fletcher said funds need to be used wisely to get the state ahead of climate change.

“And the funds available during this particular opportunity are not going to come close to covering the total cost, but they certainly can set us on the road of planning,” Fletcher said.

“So, when we reach 2050 and 2100, we can be in a position where our shoreline is resilient, accessible and beautiful,” Stilgenbauer said.

Stilgenbauer is hoping state and city leaders will consider the plan in tackling the impacts of climate change as the clock is ticking.

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