Gray's Beach, fronting the Sheraton Waikiki, is one of two beaches specifically named in a bill to restore beaches.
Lawmakers considering fund to restore resort beaches
Lawmakers were to hear public testimony today on a bill that proposes to create a special fund to be matched by the private sector to restore beaches in Hawaii's resort areas, including a controversial project in Waikiki.
Some legislators view the measure as a way to stimulate hoteliers, other private companies or nonprofit organizations to chip in to replenish the state's public beaches that are facing erosion.
Gray's Beach, fronting the Sheraton Waikiki, and Kaanapali beach on Maui are specifically named in the measure as future restoration projects.
The fund would consist of a general revenue appropriation -- half from transient accommodation taxes on hotels -- that could be expended only if matched one-to-one by private funding, said Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, (D-Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), co-author of the bill.
"The main thing is we're afraid of the erosion going on," he said.
Sen. Roz Baker (D-Maui), chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said there is probably no general-fund money available for the bill, which she supports in concept to help restore the state's heavily-utilized beaches, and is likely to defer action until the measure can be tweaked.
Karamatsu said he has met with state tourism executives as well as representatives of Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts LP, which owns four beachfront hotels, including the Sheraton Waikiki, and has considered plans to install three T-shaped rock groins and widen the beach fronting the hotel as part of a larger upgrade of its properties. Kyo-ya's project cost has been estimated at $3 million to $4 million.
"It's not meant just for one entity like Kyo-ya," Karamatsu said. "We want to encourage it all over the state to have beaches replenished."
Jeannine Johnson, an advocate for public access to beaches, in a testimony opposing the proposal, said that the bill only supports "multi-millionaire hotel and resort owners" responsible for the beach erosion because of hotel developments built too close to the shoreline.
"You must do what's pono (right) and kill this special-interest bill," she said in her testimony.
Keith Vieira, senior vice president of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii & French Polynesia, which manages Kyo-ya's Waikiki hotels, said the beaches are an integral part of Hawaii's success as a tourist destination and is of significant value to residents as well.
"The continued loss of sand from our key beaches are a concern and could have an affect on our economy in the future if people see no beaches to come out to," he said in support of the bill.
The Resort Beach Restoration Fund as proposed would be a sub-account of the Beach Restoration Special Fund, which is comprised of fees, fines and donations collected by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
If passed by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, the bill would move on for a full Senate vote. The measure was passed by the House earlier this month.