On Oahu’s North Shore, state celebrates a rare success story in battle against illegal seawalls

At Ke Nui Beach on the North Shore, there appears to be a rare success story in the state’s ongoing battle against illegal beach erosion abatement structures.
Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 5:49 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 29, 2022 at 4:33 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Ke Nui Beach on the North Shore, there appears to be a rare success story in the state’s ongoing battle against illegal beach erosion abatement structures.

In the fall, homeowner Joshua VanEmmerik created an unpermitted concrete and rebar berm to support a house as erosion threatened to undermine it.

Facing thousands of dollars in fines, his attorney told the city he would comply with state and county orders to remove the structure.

A visit Wednesday by Hawaii News Now confirmed that the structure was gone.

He apparently followed through on his promise to have a contractor use portable hand tools to chip the concrete away instead of hiring a shoreline excavation contractor.

The work left behind pieces of concrete and bailing wire in the sand near the house.

‘Unmanaged retreat’: Report calls for swift action to tackle North Shore erosion

Outgoing Land Board Chair Suzanne Case can’t talk about the specific case, but said fines do work sometimes.

“It does make a difference,” Case said. “We do have examples of coastal landowners recognizing that we are not just going to lie down and let the beach disappear.”

But many properties around the island have anti-erosion structures the state has ordered removed. They remain while the homeowners take advantage of their right to contest the violations before the Land Board.

Case says the situation is proof the contested case system needs to change.

“It is time consuming and expensive and I do think it needs to be streamlined,” Case said. “Because it really has created a huge backlog we have dozens of violations for coastal erosion.”

A fix may not be that simple.

PHOTOS: Erosion, rising sea levels threaten more homes along Oahu’s North Shore

Like in the Mauna Kea telescope dispute, the contested case system has been used by cultural and environmental groups to fight controversial decisions by DLNR.

Attorney David Frankel has fought many of those battles.

“Streamlining is often a euphemism for getting rid of or really minimizing public input,” Frankel said.

But environmental law professor Denise Antolin said when it comes to enforcement cases, especially where damage to the environment is ongoing, the law could be changed to allow the agency to take down illegal structures.

“DLNR should be able to quickly be able to remove that at the homeowners expense,” Antolini said.

She also said that would mean expert removal rather than potentially haphazard work by property owners and contractors, which could lead to other types of shoreline damage.

“Using contractors you know approved contractors who can both protect the shoreline and do the best job possible, removing those kinds of very tricky and often deteriorating structures,” she said.

Antolini said another reform that could help would be to allow DLNR to hire specialized hearings officers who could hear and decide cases more quickly and predictably.