Coastal erosion, large-wave impacts and sea-level rise are distinct and serious issues for our shorelines.
In Kahana, nine condominium complexes are imminently threatened, and another building was deemed uninhabitable because of increasing coastal erosion cracking the foundation. Lower Honoapiʻilani Road, fronting Kaʻōpala Bay, is facing a similar threat.
The road covers a charged waterline located next to the sewer line—important county infrastructure. Puamana Beach Park has been closed because of coastal erosion that unearthed iwi kūpuna.
At Kāʻanapali, there are iwi kūpuna exposed and portions of the beach walk undermined. West Maui’s State Highway 30 is often wet from ocean swells and high tides and needs to be moved inland.
In response to these issues and the impending sea-level rise, the State legislature passed Act 83 (2014), which mandated the Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Report, and Act 32 (2017), which created the State Climate Change Commission. Projected exposure can be visualized in the Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Viewer.
Maui County has begun incorporating this information into our community plans and vulnerability assessments conducted by departments that manage our infrastructure.
Those unfamiliar with the ocean and our coastal environment may think we have until 2050 to experience one foot of sea level rise, and perhaps one foot seems trivial. Yet sea-level rise coupled with major episodic swells result in substantial coastal impacts, just as we witnessed with the July 15 south swell.
While sea-level rise continues to incrementally deplete the natural buffers, the changing climate will contribute to extreme weather that will inundate our roads and buildings. We will experience frequent “100-year” storms that cause flooding and wreak havoc in our communities.
As a policymaker, I proposed creating a Managed Retreat Revolving Fund—which the council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee began discussing in August. My colleagues seemed receptive, but it needed more work.
How would the funds be prioritized?
My intention isn’t for this fund to be used as a bailout for coastal landowners. We need to: (1) plan for public health and safety should landowners abandon their properties, and the buildings fall into the ocean, (2) plan for relocation of public infrastructure and (3) look for ways we can facilitate and streamline the retreat process for those who are willing to be proactive.
Using one third of our Maui County Transient Accommodation Tax would allot approximately $20 million a year for the Managed Retreat Revolving Fund. The feedback on this idea revealed a desire to plan out the entire amount of the TAT revenue before earmarking any of the funds.
But the council appropriates money annually unless otherwise directed by the charter. Therefore, a future charter amendment may be necessary to ensure TAT revenue is dedicated to the proposed Managed Retreat Revolving Fund or any specific fund.
I propose to keep the TAT revenue separate from the General Fund as a starting point for discussion. Transferring funds from the General Fund to other funds can lower the county’s bond rating.
In response to feedback from my colleagues, I suggest the following five equal (20%) and distinct categories for the TAT revenue:
(1) managed retreat,
(2) transportation improvements—specifically for roads heavily impacted by tourism,
(3) emergency response—like ocean safety at Puʻu Kekaʻa, which is state shoreline,
(4) creation of clean and safe living spaces—involving the cleanup of abandoned vehicles, ʻōpala along the coastlines and bushes and living spaces for the unsheltered and
(5) investment in water resources.
Ultimately, we need to start the discussion of how we will spend the county’s TAT revenue in ways that invest in the infrastructure being impacted by tourism and climate change to raise our quality of life.
We must raise these discussions about how we will fund the cost of managed retreat because, although our annual budget has hit the $1 billion mark, it is crucial for the public to realize that majority of the revenue comes from our coastal properties regardless of tax classification. As these properties are impacted by flooding or land loss, the value and the corresponding revenue will decrease, and at that point, everyone will be seeking assistance.
We must do what we can to prepare for the future being projected by scientists.
* Tamara Paltin is chair of the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee. She holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.