The only U.S. beach that ranked #1 recently on the world’s best list will apparently not be restored. At least so went Friday’s decision by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Board. The plan had been to bring enough sand from off-shore onto Kaanapali Beach to hopefully provide at least 15 more years before significant erosion would again become apparent.
The decision comes after four decades of continuous erosion plus a recent high tide event on Maui that also caused a collapse in the famed walkway. The area of concern is near the Kaanapali Alii Resort, the Hyatt Regency Maui, Sheraton Maui Resort, Kaanapali Beach Hotel, restaurants, shopping, and the legendary Black Rock.
As recently as late last year, it appeared that DLNR was on board the long-planned Kaanapali Beach restoration project which might have provided the extra time needed for these businesses to continue before more extensive changes are necessitated in the future.
We’ve known for decades that these buildings should not be there.
Kaanapali now finds itself in a situation where many high-end properties have been built on beaches that are fast eroding, with no planned or likely possible solution. There isn’t an easy solution that forestalls the inevitable.
It was clear to many from the outset to think that the remediation could be both successful and not harmful was a fantasy. Studies have indicated that such “nourishment” projects don’t provide long term benefit and have a detrimental impact on wildlife.
The only U.S. beach recently ranked among the best beaches in the world.
Kaanapali Beach was just honored as being among the best beaches in the world. It was the only beach in the United States to be included. In addition, Kaanapali was honored as 1st on the list of top 25 beaches in the United States. That list also included beaches in Hawaii. These were a part of TripAdvisor’s 2023 Travelers’ Choice Awards.
Despite the erosion, Kaanapali remains a spectacular three-mile-long stretch of iconic white sand. Kaanapali also has a venerable place in Maui’s history.
Why the state nixed the $10M Kaanapali Beach Restoration project.
There has been growing concern about the large-scale sand mining that would have been required to dredge adequate sand for the shoreline’s restoration and beach build-up. In addition, ongoing concern has been expressed about the potential reef and wildlife damage, among other problems.
The state is also sensitive to the fact that this project would have benefitted high-end condos, hotels, and businesses along the beach. It is proposed instead that those properties begin planning a retreat from the eroding shoreline.
The DLNR Board has shown a new determination in dealing with climate change and rising sea levels. The board is opting to move its focus from protecting private properties to one protecting public beaches. This represents a significant shift at state DLNR. DLNR previously said, “Right now is literally the time when it’s most affordable and easiest for us to get engaged in managed retreat. Figuring that out is a problem, but we’re not the only community in the world that has this issue. Literally, every coastal community does.”
About Kaanapali Resort.
First developed over 60 years ago, before the beach erosion was apparent, it has grown to encompass nearly 5K guest accommodations with 1/2 million annual visitors. The resort members have looked at the beach erosion problem for over 15 years. Almost a decade ago, it entered into a preliminary agreement with the state to help fund the restoration project.
The $10M cost was to have been paid half by the state and half by the entity representing the hotels, condos, stores, and golf courses. The state had already allocated the funds for the project before this about-face.
While the matter may not be closed entirely, the new direction of the state DLNR is clear. Other processes will still need to take place before a final decision. But ultimately, the board and extensive public testimony indicate a lack of future support for the restoration project. Since additional permitting is required before any work can begin, it isn’t clear whether those permits will or won’t be forthcoming.