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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Wise practices need to accommodate local conditions / Hawaii-U.S.A.

Posted By: Bob Colopy
Date: Sunday, 25 July 1999, at 11:23 a.m.

Key words: coastal erosion, professional qualifications, sea defence measures.


The coastal engineering profession should publish qualification guidelines for selecting experts needed by coastal zone management programs to solve coastal erosion problems. Normally governments consult qualified professionals to provide safety for the public e.g. medical professionals for health, civil engineers for roads and bridges, etc. Yet when it comes to safety from the ocean there is little guidance on qualifications. This can lead to individuals being selected as advisors who are not technically qualified to address erosion problems. The result is a poor understanding of the erosion causes and consequently bad rules and regulations that don't address the real causes of the erosion.


This is apparent when looking at the state of Hawaii's erosion educational pamphlet scanned in at (http://www.savethereef.org/dlnr/), where beach loss is defined in such a way as to make the shoreline homeowners, who are really the victims of the erosion, bear all the costs of the erosion mitigation measures done for the benefit of the general public. The real causes of erosion are not addressed e.g. no programs to deal with sand diversions caused by industry and government projects such as mining, reef damage, dredging, boat harbours, dune destruction for public access paths, wind blown losses through flood control outlets. The state's whole program is based on the premise that the beach retreat rate is a natural process and not caused by government actions and that sea walls are the problem. (See www.savethereef.org for more details).

In Maui county we have a government advisor who recommended sea wall prohibitions and setback strategies as well as other things outside his area of expertise. See threatened high rise buildings almost teetering at the edge of the ocean in the Maui Beach Management Plan (http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/SEAGRANT/bmpm/objectives_and_recom_7.html or http://www.savethereef.org/plan/bmpm/objectives_and_recom_7.html).

He allows no reliable protection despite these structures being prone to tsunami and severe storm damage and surrounded by other properties already with sea walls. We see potential liability problems for the county and hope to get some guidance on qualifications required for advisors on these issues.

This week in San Diego at the Coastal Zone 99 conference, these advisors are introducing some newly elected and appointed Maui officials to the "right" contacts from North Carolina and other states so they can see "correct" policies that they would like to see applied in Hawaii. They are also describing their own plans.


We believe correct policies should flow from hiring qualified coastal engineers at the front end of a coastal zone program before the rules are developed. Rules should be custom-made to address the specific causes of erosion rather than force fit from another state's situation. The coastal engineers should be free to conclude that the government is causing the erosion if that is the case and equitable policies for sea walls and beach restoration should then be developed. Those that caused the sand loss, and not the victims, should pay for its return.


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