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'It's too late, the damage is done,' North Shore residents on 20 foot erosion rule

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Today, the beach that sits in front of the surf break Pupukea and Gas Chambers, is gone.

Surfers seen maneuvering around massive trees to jump in the ocean.

Tree debris now stretching down to Ke Iki beach. 

KHON2 spoke to some residents who tell say they called the Department of Land and Natural Resources for help. 

Only to be told to wait until the erosion was 20-feet from their home.

In a letter obtained by KHON2, one homeowner wrote to a DLNR employee last Thursday:

"your inspection this morning should confirm the urgency."

The employee texting back later that day rejecting the emergency request.

On Sunday, the homeowner writing they are devastated.

As you witnessed on September 6th, you measured 22 feet to the structure of my home. Later that same day, the erosion was under 20 feet.

One resident tells KHON2 he's lived at his home for 53 years. It was built in 1945. 

"As a result, before DLNR would allow the permitting to take place, we had to loose more property. It was at such dramatic amounts, and happened so quickly," he said. 

State Representative Sean Quinlan (D) went to each homeowners home the other day. 

"One of issues with 20-foot rule is that when we have tropical storm, nearby people might be losing 3 to 5 feet a day. So the inspector might come out and the ocean might be 30 feet from the structure but in a day or two, it could be at 20 feet or less. So we need inspectors to come out as often as possible," he said. 

He says the majority of the homeowners affected have lived at these homes since the 1960s. "We're talking about old-time, longtime families, kamaaina," he said. 

One homeowner saying "They've [DLNR] got to be more proactive to emergency situations and not [stand] by their written rule and resource policies that don't fit all situations."

Residents who tried to save their homes by putting out bags without a permit, were handed cease and desist letters, with the possibility of $15,000 per day fines. 

University of Hawaii at Manoa coastal erosion expert Chip Fletcher tells KHON2. 

"The approach of putting burritos and geotextile cloths, and sand pushing is a fine short-term approach. It provides a short-term relief for homeowners. It temporarily stops the erosion at the beach park and underneath some of these homes severely threatened."

He adds it is not a long-term solution.

"These efforts may get swept away with the very first swell event which should arrive within days to weeks. They may not last throughout the winter if they survive first swell event."

"These temporary measures are to buy time so that homeowners, governors, the local North Shore community can engage in a focused, serious discussion on what to do about this situation. We could simply let it continue to play out, the burritos and geotextile cloths will prevent the beach from getting sand that it wants but they will also be swept away by waves and not provide long term protection to the homes," he said. 

"These places wont be the last, every beach over the next several years for next decade or two—sea level rise is just getting started its been creeping up very slowly. We now know global sea level rise is accelerating."

The DLNR says the 20 foot rule was written back in 1994. When asked if it is being updated due to statewide erosion issues, they said they are updating it now. 

KHON2 will keep you posted if changes are made.


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