As monster swells drive erosion, North Shore homeowners worry they’ll be ‘victims to the ocean’

Each one of these swells makes beachfront residents more nervous and more and more sand is taken away.
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 9:25 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2023 at 10:42 AM HST
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NORTH SHORE OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Huge waves pounded North Shore beaches on Wednesday ― as part of the second warning-level swell this week.

The monster waves aren’t just dangerous.

They’re making homeowners nervous about worsening erosion that’s threatening their properties.

Todd Dunphy, who owns a property at Rocky Pound, said there used to be 17 feet of sand outside his back door.

After Sunday’s massive swell, there was only four feet of sand left.

“Got plywood. Plywooded up my house, my front doors, and didn’t make it to do the windows, but that’s all I could do was plywood and braced for it,” Dunphy said.

A year ago, the sand completely disappeared and he feared he’d lose his home.

It’s a familiar story ― with beaches disappearing altogether in some places.

“I can remember seeing these houses behind us ... I mean the water never came near them and now many of them are boarded up,” said Susan Boyett, who’s visited the North Shore once a week for the last 20 years.

“It’s sad.”

There are two beachfront properties up for sale near Dunphy’s on Ke Nui Road, one for $2.5 million and another for $1.8 million. Both are on the market for about half a million dollars less than their original asking prices.

Last spring, Dunphy hired an excavator to build up the sand behind his home, drawing more than $90,000 in fines from the DLNR. His efforts to save the sand this time are more modest.

“Got a little curtain, a little protection to save what’s there, which is the bare minimum right now,” he said.

State Rep. Sean Quinlan, who represents the area, said long-term and comprehensive solutions are needed.

“I would hope that at the state level we (develop) a process to both help these homeowners, but also to enforce upon those who break the law,” Quinlan said.

Among the DLNR’s package of bills at this year’s Legislature is a measure that would drum up funding to help property owners relocate to areas away from sea level rise.

Another would require property sellers to disclose permitted and unpermitted erosion control measures as well as the property’s erosion rate.

Dunphy wants to stay, but is asking the state for “big rocks” to save properties.

“We’re all gonna stay here ‘til the end. Without armoring this, we’re just victims to the ocean,” he said.