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Beachside view of Kahana Sunset Building F next to the ocean, on Maui.


Surfrider Appeals Encroachment on Beach at Kahana Sunset Condos in Maui

On Behalf of the Maui Chapter, the Surfrider Foundation and partners have filed an appeal of yet another round of permits that would allow a structurally failing West Maui condominium and its seawalls to continue encroaching on to the public beach.

The Kahana Sunset oceanfront condominiums, also known as the Kahana Sunset Resort, is one of several coastal developments on West Maui experiencing – and contributing to – significant, chronic erosion on the island. Data indicates that 85% of Maui’s beaches are experiencing long term erosion, and the island has lost at least 11% of its beaches. About 14% of West Maui’s beaches (about 2.5 miles) have been completely lost to erosion.  

Since at least 2010, the Maui County Planning Department and the Maui County Council have recognized the need for “managed retreat” at the Kahana Sunset, which has two buildings – Building A and Building F – sitting precariously at the water’s edge, with failing seawalls, and foundations atop growing sinkholes (Building F is so unstable, its 12 units have been uninhabitable since March 2021). Waves are often seen crashing against both buildings, and a State surveyor has indicated that a shoreline survey would likely show the upper reach of the wash of the waves behind the seawall, meaning it is encroaching onto the public beach. Yet, rather than enforce Hawaii’s coastal protection laws and require adaptive retreat, the Maui Planning Department has, for decades, repeatedly permitted a series of “emergency repairs,” and allowed the condominium to encroach further onto the public trust shoreline. Kahana Sunset Association of Apartment Owners has still not finished preparing a required draft managed retreat plan, and instead has continued applying for “emergency” and “repair” permits.

On June 19 and July 18, 2023, the Maui County Planning Department granted yet another round of permits and exemptions for Buildings A and F, allowing more “repair” and continuing encroachment, without environmental assessment. Accordingly, on July 21, 2023, together with community groups Nā Papa‘i Wawae ‘Ula‘ula and Ka Malu O Kahālāwai (and their leaders Kai Nishiki and Tiare Lawrence), the Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the Maui Chapter, filed an appeal before the Maui County Planning Commission challenging the permits and exemptions. The appeal argues that the Planning Director’s permits and exemptions violate the Coastal Zone Management Act (Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 205A), and the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 343).  

Armoring to protect ill-conceived coastal development is a primary contributing cause to coastal erosion and shrinking beaches, as it fixes once dynamic shorelines, and cuts off a replenishing sand supply. Surfrider advocates for the inward relocation of such development, and removal of harmful shoreline armoring, to give coasts the ability to breathe, and return to their natural dynamic state. 

With respect to the Shoreline Setback approval and Special Management exemption for “repairs” to stabilize the “foundation” of Kahana Sunset’s Building F, the project entails drilling approximately 25 micro-piles up to 25 feet deep, into the bedrock, along the length of the building. While the permit claims that the project does not include a seawall repair, the project effectively reinforces the existing, failing seawall that is attached to and directly in front of Building F, by buttressing it from behind and creating a second layer of protection. Meanwhile the permit for Building A would include repairing columns below the building and filling the underlying sinkhole with approximately 100 cubic yards of low strength concrete and sand bags. All the while, the tide and waves will continue their landward advance. The projects present numerous significant, cumulative impacts to the coastal and marine environment, and yet the Department did not consider those impacts. In fact, the approvals for neighboring Buildings A and F did not even consider the impact of each other, despite being granted at nearly the same time, for the same condominium parcel. And while the permits purport to provide Kahana Sunset time to finish their required managed retreat plan, the projects would extend the life of Buildings A and F and undermine efforts to relocate. It makes little sense to allow Kahana Sunset to pour money (and concrete) into the seaside buildings when they need to be removed and/or relocated inland.

The projects allow the failing buildings to remain encroaching onto the public trust shore, narrowing and occupying Keonenui Beach, and reducing perpendicular and lateral beach access. The buildings exacerbate erosion which has also caused demonstrated water quality impacts, as the clay substrate beneath the sand at Keonenui Beach is exposed and washes into the bay, harming recreation, fishing, and customary native Hawaiian cultural practices. As such, the projects will continue to constitute an irrevocable commitment or destruction of natural and cultural resources and a reduction of beneficial uses. The projects also significantly delay managed retreat of Buildings A and F, which the Department has previously cited as a short term goal for this property (in fact, a 2022 Department guidance letter to the Kahana Sunset AOAO, indicated the final step is to “accept reality,” envision a new common shoreline area, and gain “owners’ support for a Managed Retreat Strategy.”)

“Surfrider is proud to be a part of this appeal because it supports part of our mission for ocean protection and beach access,” says Maui Chapter Secretary Jill Wirt. “Nature will continue to impact man-made structures along the coast long after we are on the planet. It's time we start listening to nature and give it space”

The appeal requests a contested case hearing before the Maui Planning Commission. Please stay tuned to Surfrider’s Maui Chapter for updates on the appeal.