Agreement will benefit public and beachfront landowners
The state and two public interest groups have settled a lawsuit about shoreline boundaries.
BOTH private landowners and the public should benefit from the state's adoption of rules that correctly conform to what Hawaii law defines as shoreline.
The public will retain rightful beach space while landowners can be assured their buildings along the ocean front will less likely be damaged by erosion.
The rules correction agreed to by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources is the result of a settlement in a lawsuit brought by two groups, Public Access Shoreline Hawaii and the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club.
Hawaii law defines the shoreline boundaries of public land as the upper reaches of typical waves marked by debris left by the wash of the waves or evidenced by the edge of vegetation. However, the land agency had been favoring vegetation lines over debris marks, the groups contended, with its rules suggesting debris lines be used only if there was no vegetation.
That had allowed landowners to extend landscaping artificially toward the ocean, decreasing public property and access to coastal areas, and contributing to beach erosion when walls are built along boundaries.
The board, in acknowledging the law, will revise its rules for certifying shoreline boundaries to look at all evidence instead of a single indicator. The groups, in turn, have agreed to drop their lawsuit.
The reasonable solution sets aside a court battle and indicates that the board and the state land department are willing to resolve contentious issues amicably. Though the department had changed its practices for evaluating boundaries in the past year, the settlement confirms it will adhere to the law.
The next step will be for the state Legislature to allow new methods, such as using high-tech tools, to evaluate and certify boundaries. The organizations have joined with the state, developers and others in a working group that has agreed unanimously to remove the emphasis on ambiguous vegetation lines. Lawmakers should heed their advice.
Shoreline boundaries, which set baselines from which development is allowed, has become of greater concern in Hawaii as erosion narrows public space. Often, conflicts will result when public use of beaches disturbs homeowners. However, shorelines in Hawaii are part of a unique public trust, as the law clearly conveys. State authorities have a duty to sustain guardianship of that trust.
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