1 year later: North Shore homeowners try to manage beach erosion ahead of hurricane swells

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Tropical storm Flossie’s northern track has some North Shore residents on alert.

Last year, hurricane swells from Lane, Norman, and Olivia quickly eroded homes near Ehukai at several feet per day.

This week, the Department of Land and Natural Resources said they coordinated authorization for the temporary erosion control effort to take place seaward of 20 properties at Pūpūkea Beach Park.

They said the work is being conducted in response to last year’s extreme erosion event that threatened single-family homes.

“The goal of the project is to provide an erodible buffer for properties threatened by intensifying coastal hazards,” the DLNR said in a press release.

Last year’s event was a first for many of the homeowners that live between Rocky Point and Ehukai Beach Park.

“In the 53 years that I’ve owned the house… that was the first time that ever happened,” said resident Bob Schieve.

This time last year there were about 20 homes threatened.

Since Monday, heavy machinery has pushed sand up towards the homes.

Shieve said the sand is not being brought from another part of the beach, it’s the same sand that was in front of their homes before last year’s swells moved them towards Sharks Cove.

“The restoration is straight into each lot which was one of the criteria we had to meet with the DLNR,” Shieve explained.

The DLNR explained that sand pushing and beach restoration are commonly used strategies for erosion control. 

“DLNR considers such projects in advance of seasonal erosion when the beach is still relatively wide,” the DLNR said.

The project comes as Flossie begins to dissipate north of the state.

“We keep an eye on the storms,” Shieve said. He notes Flossie’s northern track.

“That one is going to create the North North-West swell again which will take some sand away,” he explains.

Shieve believes the beach today is about 120 feet wide but said it was twice as wide in years past.

Beach and erosion experts are uncertain whether the sand pushing will do more harm than good.

“We’re not in a position to really know if sand pushing has any detrimental impacts,” said Chip Fletcher, University of Hawaii at Manoa coastal erosion expert.

He said there have been many studies done nationally and internationally.

“Certainly the wider the beach, the better the cushion, the more protection you get. We’ll just have to see, so much of this is preparation as best as possible but there are no guarantees,” he said.

And while the sand pushing is only a temporary fix, with the geotextile cloths, it could have long term impacts.

“The geotextile cloths seems to be pretty effective at stopping the erosion that is actively undermining the properties,” he explained. “But the truth is eroding that sand that’s underlying the properties gives the beach its lifeblood, it gives the beach what it wants which is sand,” he said.

“If this continues over a decade I think the probability of negative impacts to the beach system as a whole rises significantly,” Fletcher said.

“Our State’s sandy beaches are the last line of defense against rising seas and chronic shoreline retreat. It is critical that we enable actions, where environmentally appropriate, to reduce the rate of erosion utilizing soft erosion control measures like beach restoration and sand pushing,”  Sam Lemmo, Administrator for the DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands said.

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