Hedging Our Sands
The public’s access along Hawaii’s shoreline is in jeopardy. Act 160, which keeps coastal areas clear of introduced vegetation that impedes beach access, expires on June 30.
Throughout Hawaii’s history, the right to access and traverse the shoreline has been considered a sacred privilege. Codified in law and upheld in numerous court cases, Hawaii’s shoreline is held in trust for the public by the state and is free for all to enjoy. Unlike many states on the mainland, Hawaii’s beaches cannot be privately owned. Despite the accessibility of beaches to the public, however, traversing Hawaii’s coastline has become more and more challenging over the past few decades.
Although the state has generally succeeded in maintaining beach access points, it has only recently begun looking at problems with lateral access from one part of a beach to another. Over the past few decades in certain coastal areas, private landowners with property abutting the beach have planted saltwater-resistant shrubbery. Whether purposefully or through neglect, much of this vegetation has increasingly grown seaward. Certain plants, especially shrub-like species of hau and naupaka, have encroached beyond the high-water mark that traditionally delineated the beginning of the publicly available beach.
As many of these plants grew unchecked, their branches and leaves grew over sand-covered areas of the beach that were previously traversable even 20 years ago. Now, because of the thick vegetation, many residents are unable to get from one area of the beach to the other during high tides without getting soaked (if they can get there at all).
In 2010, the Legislature passed Act 160, a coastal access law that requires property owners to ensure that beachfront areas abutting their lands “be kept passable and free from the landowner’s human-induced, enhanced or unmaintained vegetation that interferes or encroaches” upon the public’s ability to transit the shoreline. The law also requires the Department of Land and Natural Resources to maintain beach transit corridors by prohibiting landowners from growing vegetation that interferes with public access, and authorizes the department to issue notices to landowners and take any authorized actions to accomplish its objective.
But Act 160 sunsets shortly. Representatives Cindy Evans, Denny Coffman, Faye Hanohano, Derek Kawakami, Chris Lee, Nicole Lowen, Scott Nishimoto, Roy Takumi and I have introduced HB 17 to make this law permanent. We need public support to enable this measure to pass and keep our shorelines open to the public. Please track the bill on the Legislature’s website, [capitol.hawaii.gov], and enter in HB 17 to receive updates and submit testimony on this important coastal access bill.