SUNSET BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under what is known as Hawaii common law, a shoreline extends to what's called the high water mark.
That's where the wave washes up during high tide. From that point into the ocean is public property — it now belongs to the state and no longer belongs to the owner of a beachfront home.
As erosion continues to eat away at North Shore coastlines, so-called shoreline migration is becoming a significant problem.
"The edges of their property falling into the water, decks, stairs, just like what was here," Sunset Beach resident Sam Vaughs said, pointing at the shoreline erosion edging closer to homes.
The worsening erosion prompted state's Attorney General Doug Chin to clarify how shoreline migration law works.
"If people want to build something over what is now public lands, that used to be theirs, then under our current laws you have to pay for that, you have to pay fair market value," he said.
That's through obtaining an easement from the state's land board. It could be to build a ramp, wall, stairs or other structure on land that used to belong to the homeowner but was claimed by the ocean.
"It's a tough decision for the land board because we want to give the landowner the easement if it's appropriate but the board has to charge fare market value under the statute and that can cost tens of thousands of dollars," Department of Land and Natural Resources chair Suzanne Case said.
Lawmakers may discuss in the upcoming legislative session giving the land board leeway to waive the fee in certain situations, given nature's increasing adjustments of shoreline boundaries
"To the extent that that our laws have always protected our beaches as belonging to the public then this is something that is going to become an issue more and more for shoreline owners," Chin said.
"Sea level rise is accelerating the natural erosion of our beaches. It does impact coastal land owners. Everyone needs to keep a close eye on it," Case said.
Coastline property owners faced with shoreline concerns can also apply for state permits to build temporary structures to protect their property from erosion before it happens. Call the state's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands for more information.