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Kahana Sunset's encroaching Building F at Keonenui Bay on West Maui


Protecting a West Maui Beach from Encroaching Vacation Rentals

The Surfrider Foundation and our partners have gone to court to protect a west Maui beach from encroaching vacation rentals.
Surfrider, along with native Hawaiian community groups Nā Papa'i Wawae 'Ula'ula and Ka Malu O Kahālāwai, have filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit on Maui challenging the Kahana Sunset condominium complex’s encroachment onto west Maui State shoreline lands, without State permits and proper environmental review under the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (“HEPA”).
For over a decade, two of Kahana Sunset’s six condominium buildings – Buildings A and F – located on Keonenui Bay north of Lahaina, have repeatedly suffered structural failures due to the inundation of the rising ocean and resulting sinkholes developing under them. Building F, whose 12 units are nearly if not all vacation rentals, has been vacant since March of 2021, when an engineer declared the building unsafe for occupancy. 
Surfrider has already filed an administrative appeal of Maui County-issued Shoreline Management Act (“SMA”) permits granted in 2023 for coastal construction at Kahana Sunset. This lawsuit complements that appeal, and raises important issues – including jurisdictional issues – that should be determined prior to the Maui Planning Commission hearing.
Kahana Sunset was originally built in 1971, and at that time Building F was 50 feet from the shoreline, and Building A was a mere 15 feet from the shoreline. In Hawaii, the “shoreline,” defined generally as the “upper reach of the wash of the waves” divides the regulatory jurisdiction – with the counties regulating landward, and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands responsible for regulating and protecting the public trust beach seaward of the shoreline. 
There is ample evidence (including overtopping waves, sand debris, and sinkholes) indicating that the “upper reach of the wash of the waves,” and therefore shoreline, is mauka, or landward, of portions of both Buildings A and F, as well as additional structures. 

Kahana Seawall Closeup
Yet, Kahana Sunset does not have and has not even applied for proper State authorizations or HEPA documentation; and Surfrider believes that even if Kahana Sunset applies, permits should not be granted under current State laws protecting the public trust coastal resources. Among Hawai’i’s coastal protection laws, Act 16, passed in 2020, prohibits the construction of private shoreline hardening structures including seawalls and revetments at sites with sand beaches, or where artificially fixing the shoreline may interfere with recreational and waterline activities unless clearly demonstrated to be in the public interest. Kahana Sunset’s proposed project to “stabilize the foundation of Building “F”" amounts to new armoring prohibited by Act 16.
Kahana Sunset also lacks a current valid certified shoreline, despite the County requiring one since at least 2017 as a condition of several permits. Kahana Sunset’s last certified shoreline is from 1978. Kahana Sunset withdrew an application for an updated one in 2012 after the State surveyor indicated he disagreed with Kahana Sunset’s proposed survey, which put the shoreline along the edge of Kahana’s seawalls; the State Surveyor provided the shoreline was mauka of Building F’s seawall.
This lawsuit and Surfrider’s pending administrative appeal are both important for enforcing State laws and protecting the public trust beach, and the valuable coastal ecosystem and important recreational opportunities along Keonenui Bay. Surfrider’s contested case hearing in the administrative appeal is scheduled to begin before the Maui Planning Commission on December 10, 2024. In the meantime, for updates on this new lawsuit, please stay tuned to Surfrider’s Coastal Blog and the Maui Chapter.