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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2010

Hawaii shore-access bill gaining support

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kähala landowner  Stanton Johnston says his naupaka plants help preserve the beach. Others see them as an encroachment.

Photos by NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Read the beach access report at


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

House Bill 1808 would make beachfront property owners responsible for keeping beaches accessible for walking.

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As Hawai'i's precious recreation areas become increasingly crowded, a bill to protect shoreline access is gaining momentum in the Legislature.

Supporters say HB 1808 is necessary to stop the illegal acquisition of beachfront shoreline by homeowners. Opponents warn that the measure could set a precedent and lead to greater demands on property owners abutting state lands.

Both sides recognize a need to keep the lateral beach access free of barriers for public use but they differ on how to accomplish that.

The problem is that some beachside property owners are encouraging plants, mainly naupaka, to grow onto state land, said Sam Lemmo, administrator of the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. In some cases, people are deliberately planting naupaka — and in at least one case, hau — on state land, Lemmo said.

The result is more yard space for homeowners and less beach area for the public.

In some cases, the beach is blocked and users can't walk on the shoreline, especially at high tide, Lemmo said, adding that he sought legislation that would help stop the illegal taking.

"We just want specific legislative authority to be able to hold abutting landowners responsible for vegetation that they artificially induce onto public beaches," Lemmo said. "And there needs to be a penalty."

The bill was reintroduced this year by 21 legislators after it failed to pass in 2009. The members want land-owners along shorelines to maintain public access or face penalties: $1,000 for failure to fix the violation within 21 days, $1,000 for the second violation, $2,000 for each subsequent violation or each 21 days the issue is not resolved.

The Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii objected to language in the bill that the organization said could affect all property owners abutting state land.

"The fundamental principle is they're telling private citizens that if there's a government property next door, you're responsible for maintaining it," said David Arakawa, executive director for the foundation, a private, nonprofit research and trade association whose members include major Hawai'i landowners, developers and a utility company.

Lemmo said he has addressed that possibility by asking legislators to limit the legislation to "beach transit corridors."

The bill is necessary, he said, because past efforts to get landowners to cut back their vegetation that was encroaching on state land have failed.


In 2008, Lemmo tried to address the issue in a "regional approach," sending letters to 12 shoreline property owners asking them to remove plant barriers on Kāhala Beach. Two homeowners have complied, Lemmo said.

Support for the legislation has come from all over including the Big Island, Kailua, Hawai'i Kai, Sunset Beach, the Surfrider Foundation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Office of Planning, the Sierra Club and others.

The Hawaii Development Council, made up of 200 members, questioned the need for the bill because the DLNR can remove vegetation through its normal maintenance.

Stanton Johnston, a Kāhala Beach resident, also opposes the bill and its "one-size-fits-all" perspective.

One of the residents who received a DLNR letter to cut back plants complied and ever since then has been battling erosion where once there was a sandy beach, Johnston said. He said the neighbor has spent $100,000 to bring in sandbags and sand that only washes away in the high tides.

"The naupaka holds the shoreline," said Johnston, who also received a letter but has not complied. "It's a natural seawall. It's nature's way of protecting the shoreline from erosion."

He said the naupaka on his property has been there for about 100 years and is never watered.

As a child he remembers walking in the water at high tide, something that bill supporters say can't always be done now due to over-vegetation by homeowners.

The problem isn't limited to Kāhala. Lemmo said he's had many complaints from Hā'ena on Kaua'i, some problems on Maui and the Big Island and more complaints from Kailua.


Greg Knudsen, chairman of the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board, which supports the bill, said there are problems on shorelines in Wailupe, 'Āina Haina, Portlock and Wai'alae Iki.

"This bill would be welcome," Knudsen said. "It's not right that people can arbitrarily claim more with vegetation and restrict public access."

Kailua Neighborhood Board Chairman Charles Prentiss said the board has had complaints about people watering plants that encroach on state beaches. Even paths from the roads to the beaches are planted, Prentiss said.

People claim the plants are growing naturally and that is why the bill is necessary and the board supported it, he said.

"We're very concerned about making sure that the beach access stays open, the lateral as well as the back-and-forth access," Prentiss said.

The bill passed out of the House and was sent to the Senate, where the committees on Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs, and Transportation, International and Intergovernmental Affairs approved it with amendments and sent it to the committee on Judiciary and Government Operation. If Judiciary and Government Operation approves the measure, it would go to a committee made up of House and Senate conferees to work out the final wording of the bill.

Much of the language was removed from the bill including penalties, disappointing Lemmo.

But Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd (Kāne'ohe to Kahuku), who heads the Committee on Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs, said the panels found areas of agreement, including the definition of shoreline, support for lateral access to beaches and that it was improper to plant on public land.

The conference committee could insert more language into the bill, including penalties , he said.

"It's normal strategy at this point in the session to take most of the measures to conference," Hee said.