Honolulu Star Advertiser
Protect section of Waikiki Beach
May 23, 2018 Updated May 23, 2018 12:05am
For nine decades, the Royal Hawaiian groin has shielded Waikiki structures and the famous strip of beach that has attracted countless visitors. These days, though, any passerby can see that the thin and frail concrete- block breakwater jutting into the ocean near the Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Waikiki hotels is poised to collapse.
Its toppling could destabilize the area and essentially erase a 1,730-foot stretch of sandy shoreline that’s valuable to the state’s tourism-focused economy. What should be equally alarming is that in the absence of a strong check against erosion and other emerging climate change threats, Waikiki is increasingly vulnerable to damage tied to high waves and storms.
When an environmental assessment was published in early 2016, officials weighed various fixes — and it was widely assumed that a new groin project would be tapped as high-priority, with construction wrapped up by now. That has not happened, unfortunately. And apparently due to the ongoing delay, state funding set aside for the project that lapses in June did not get re-appropriated during this year’s legislative session.
Given the design, permitting and funding hurdles ahead, it now appears that construction will start no sooner than fall 2020. That’s a precariously long time to wait, considering that experts have been saying for for well over a year that collapse could occur any day now. If there’s a way to fast-track the project, it should be seized.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources makes a persuasive case for a 180-foot T-head rock-wall groin, which engineers say would improve protection against summer swells and expected sea-level rise. But stalling progress is the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ call for a second design review, which is still in progress.
In March 2017, BLNR member Keone Downing opposed the T-head design along with fellow Save Our Surf members, and pushed for the additional review to satisfy concerns that the proposed structure — about 10 times larger than the aging groin — might change wave quality that surfers now enjoy or attract predatory eels.
While the T-head structure would change the ocean floor footprint from about 550 square feet to more than 5,000 square feet, the proposed sloping rock rubble mound would provide good wave energy dissipation and minimal wave reflection — little impact on shore breaks. That’s according to Sea Engineering Inc., the lead design firm on the groin project and on the state’s 2012 Waikiki beach nourishment project. The firm has put in place nine similar groins at Iroquois Point, which are holding that beach together nicely.
Built with boulders as hefty as 4,500 pounds, a rubble mound’s crevices do invite more marine life, including eels. But contending with that is preferable to the painful financial bite that will result from continuing to delay replacement of the deteriorated groin.
Within the past few years, the project’s price tag has spiked. Due in part to a construction boom linked to infrastructure grades needed to fend off the now-surfacing effects of global warming, the project, which was initially tagged at $1.5 million, is now estimated at $2.5 million. The Waikiki Beach Special District Improvement Association, meanwhile, has pledged to pick up half of the cost, and is standing by.
What’s more worrisome, of course, is that further deterioration of Waikiki Beach could turn off tourists, touching off drops in the annual tally of billions of dollars in visitor spending.
The primary purpose of the new groin is to provide effective protection of the coast area in coming decades. Yes, the BLNR should aim to preserve the beach and nearshore ocean as it is. But the apparent search for a perfect fix is leaving us with rising levels of risk.
For now, the important thing is to put in place something better than what’s barely there.
DENNIS ODA /DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
The Department of Land and Natural Resources is two years behind on a project to replace the crumbling concrete groin near the Royal Hawaiian hotel. People rest on the groin in front of the Waikiki Sheraton pool.
The crumbling Royal Hawaiian groin, between the Waikiki Sheraton and Royal Hawaiian hotels, is all that is keeping a prime section of Hawaii’s most visited beach from being swept away.
The concrete groin was erected around 1927 to protect structures along the coastline and to create the sandy beach that has made Waikiki so famous. It’s supposed to be replaced with a 180-foot T-head rock-wall groin, which engineers say would provide better protection from the summer swells and high sea levels that imperil Waikiki’s coast.
But the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which is already two years behind on the project, is headed for more delays since groin funding will lapse this June and didn’t get reappropriated during this legislative session. DLNR must wait another year to ask state lawmakers to restore funding and add another $1 million to cover construction costs, which have mounted to $2.5 million from the delays.
“It’s fair to say that we would have anticipated this project would have been completed by now,” said Dolan Eversole, Waikiki Beach management coordinator for the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant program. “Fall of 2020 is probably the earliest that this project could start.”
State Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako-McCully-Moiliili) expressed disappointment that DLNR had let the money lapse for a project that is sorely needed in his district.
“I would have hoped that they would have made this a quicker priority. Three years is a long time to get stuff done,” Galuteria said. “The Senate reappropriated the funds, but they weren’t reappropriated in the House. A lot of money this year was diverted: Big money went into housing and disaster relief, and that tightened everything up. I’ll have to work with my colleagues to see what happens next year.”
DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands said the project was delayed because the Board of Land and Natural Resources requested a second design review, which is still in progress. BLNR member Keone Downing, who originally opposed the design along with fellow Save Our Surf members, pushed for the additional review to satisfy concerns that might change wave quality or attract predatory eels.
DLNR said it didn’t know why the Legislature did not act on its request for new funds given that the Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District has pledged to fund half the cost of replacing the groin.
“We are concerned about the possibility of collapse, and further delay,” DLNR said, adding that in the interim it would proceed with project planning and design.
Waikiki Improvement Association President Rick Egged said the related Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District Association is concerned that the wall could collapse during the wait. Given the situation’s urgency, members agreed to cover half the rising costs, Egged said.
Failure of the groin, which experts say could occur any day, could send 1,730 feet of sandy shoreline east of the structure into the ocean. That would make Waikiki and its coastal structures more vulnerable to high waves, storms or tsunamis.
It’s also a liability issue since the nearly century-old groin is made up of stacked blocks of concrete, and some of the grout has washed away, creating hand- and arm-size openings. There’s also some risk that it could topple since the sandbags buttressing the Ewa side of the structure have deteriorated.
Eversole said further deterioration of Waikiki Beach could trigger losses of more than $2 billion in annual visitor spending. The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism estimates that Waikiki tourism contributed $5.5 billion to the gross domestic product, a nearly 7 percent share, in 2016, the most current data available.
Not all visitors to Waikiki are “beach people,” and the destination’s attributes go beyond its sandy shores. But there’s no denying that Waikiki beaches are a top visitor consideration.
“The beach is what we came for — its importance is 100 percent,” said Fran Wallace, a visitor from Australia’s Gold Coast who was soaking up the sun Thursday near the sea wall. “If you didn’t have Waikiki Beach, it would wreck tourism for you guys.”
WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -
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