Groups drop shoreline suit
State Land Board officials agree to rework rules defining where a public shoreline begins
Two environmental groups have dropped a lawsuit against the state after government officials agreed to change how the state defines where the shoreline begins.
The lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court in July by Public Access Shoreline Hawaii and Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter, objected to the strict use of vegetation to determine the line between oceanside private property and the public shoreline.
Hawaii law defines the shoreline as "upper annual reaches of the waves" as evidenced by the vegetation or debris line, whichever extends farther inland than the reach of the waves.
The lawsuit contended that state Board of Land and Natural Resources rules established a preference for vegetation rather than debris lines. This gave private landowners the ability to grow vegetation, such as naupaka, to extend their property toward the ocean and create less beach for the public, exacerbating beach erosion, the environmentalists argued.
In the settlement announced yesterday, the groups agreed to drop the lawsuit, and Land Board officials agreed to remove any language in its rules using vegetation as the major preference in determining the shoreline.
"This is the first step," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Hawaii Sierra Club. Further steps could be decided by a shoreline working group convened by the Legislature.
The working group, which includes Land Board members, Sierra Club members, developers, planners and others, unanimously agreed the emphasis on vegetation in the rules should be removed.
The Land Board agreed at its Nov. 18 meeting to initiate the process of amending the definition in its rules to conform with the language of the law.
"We agree that there needs to be consistency not only in the definition of shoreline, but also in the on-site practice of evaluating all evidence in determining the certified shoreline," board Chairman Peter Young said.
The change was applauded by Isaac Moriwake, an attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit public-interest law firm that represented plaintiffs Sierra Club and PASH.
"Hopefully, this initial change will finally inspire BLNR and our Legislature to follow up with broader reforms of our shoreline setback system," Moriwake said in a press release.
Mikulina said the working group has worked on initiatives they believe will stem the push of landowners closer to the ocean.
Short-term goals include the settlement of this lawsuit, Mikulina said. More long-term goals for the group include more funding to use high-tech tools such as global positioning systems and satellite imagery to certify shorelines, and legislation that would make sure second and third shoreline certifications pushed private property more inland rather than closer to the ocean.
The goal is that a fair, safe "line in the sand" is drawn that can protect both the public's rights and the private property owners' investments, Mikulina said.
The agreement "is a small step in the process of helping to protect ... (Hawaii's) shoreline from administrative encroachment," Mikulina said.