State agrees to stop controversial seawall project on Maui

State agrees to stop controversial seawall project on Maui
Published: Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:36 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:37 AM HST
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One seawall showdown on Maui has come to an end after an unexpected reversal by the state on Monday.  The state Department of Transportation agreed to stop its multi-million dollar shoreline improvement project in Olowalu.

The announcement comes after eight days of protests along Honoapiilani Highway.

That's where the DOT wanted to build a wall out of stones to stop erosion. However, critics called it a Band-Aid solution and finally convinced the state to come up with something better.

Those who oppose the project say Olowalu is home to a critical monk seal habitat, Maui's mother reef, a popular fishing spot and surf spot and that seawalls destroy beaches, limits access, and threatens coral reefs.

"I just want to mahalo the state DOT director. He's willing to work with us and we're willing to help him on our end and this is a great opportunity for us to bring the county, the state, and the community together and really push forward to making this happen," said Tiare Lawrence, spokeswoman for community-based hui Malama Olowalu.

State officials flew to Maui Monday morning to meet with the county and community to discuss other options.

"Today, DOT highways administrator Ford Fuchigami, his deputy Ed Sniffen, and others talked with community, walked the extent of a 900 foot shoreline, had discussions, and ultimately agreed that there are better solutions than the one that had been initially proposed," Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons said.

Honoapiilani Highway at Milepost 16 near the Olowalu General Store was damaged in the past by high surf and storms so emergency repairs were needed.

Monday afternoon, the state announced its stone protection project, or seawall, originally planned for the area will not be constructed. Instead, they will re-stripe the highway and move the lanes in the mauka direction farther away from the pounding surf.

"We have been in communication with the public and listening to their concerns on the subject for more than a month. Today's compromise will give HDOT Highways three years or more to work with the community to protect Honoapiilani Highway," Ed Sniffen, Hawaii Department of Transportation, Highways Division Deputy Director said in a statement.

For eight days straight Maui protesters have been holding signs saying coastal hardening projects destroy beaches.  They say Monday's victory is a huge step in the right direction.

"That beach where they were going to boulder is very rich in cultural resources…it's a popular fishing ground. It's a popular place where people go and throw net. So we just want to protect the integrity of Olowalu and keep it special for future generations," Lawrence said.

Re-striping the road farther up mauka will buy the state three years or more to try to obtain the federal funding needed for the long-term plan of re-alignment.