State law states that the right of access to Hawaii’s shorelines includes the right of transit along the shorelines. (HRS §115-4)
The right of transit along the shoreline exists below (seaward of) the private property line (generally referred to as the “upper reaches of the wash of waves, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation or by the debris left by the wash of waves.”) (HRS §115-5)
However, in areas of cliffs or areas where the nature of the topography is such that there is no reasonably safe transit for the public along the shoreline below the private property lines, the counties by condemnation may establish along the makai boundaries of the property lines public transit corridors (not less than six feet wide.) (HRS §115-5)
Generally, the Counties have the primary authority and duty to develop and maintain public access to and along the shorelines. (HRS Secs 46-6.5, 115-5 & 115-7)
The State’s primary role in the shoreline area is to preserve and protect coastal resources within the conservation district and support public access along and below the shoreline. (HRS Chap. 205A)
When the shoreline erodes, lateral access is not lost; instead, the State’s acquires title to the newly eroded lands. (Application of Sanborn, 57 Haw. 585, 562 P.2d 771 (1997)) In other words, the public continues to have access along the shoreline to the upper reaches of the wash of the waves.
There is a specific situation related to ownership of beach areas; it is a special circumstance in Waikiki that dates back to 1928.
Waikiki is a ‘built’ beach. Over the last 100-years it has been built primarily in two ways, (1) construction of walls and groins in the nearshore waters and (2) beach nourishment/replenishment (adding sand to the beach.)
Between 1913-1919, the majority of Waikiki had seawalls; they were placed to protect roadways and new buildings. The beach was lost fronting Kūhiō and Queen’s Beach.
In 1927, the Territorial Legislature authorized Act 273 allowing the Board of Harbor Commissioners to rebuild the eroded beach at Waikiki.
In 1928, the Territory of Hawaiʻi entered into a “Waikiki Beach Reclamation” agreement with several of the beachfront property owners.
Effectively, the agreement authorized the Territory to build a beach from the existing high water mark fronting the shoreline from the Ala Wai to the Elks Club.
The new beach was “deemed to be natural accretion attached to the abutting property, and title thereto shall immediately vest in the owner or owners of the property abutting thereon”.
In exchange, the property owners agreed not to build anything “within seventy-five (75) feet of mean highwater mark of said beach” and “at no time prevent such beach in front of their respective premises from being kept open for the use of the public as a bathing beach and for passing over”.
As part of the 1928 Beach Agreement, eleven groins composed of hollow tongue and concrete blocks were built along Waikiki Beach with the intent of capturing sand. (SOEST)
A lot of the sand to build the beach was brought in to Waikiki Beach, via ship and barge, from Manhattan Beach, California in the 1920s and 1930s.
As the Manhattan Beach community was developing, it found that excess sand in the beach dunes and it was getting in the way of development there. At the same time, folks in Hawai‘i were in need for sand to cover the rock and coral beach at Waikiki.
Kuhn Bros. Construction Co supplied the sand; they would haul the sand up from Manhattan Beach, load it onto railroad cars, have it transported to the harbor in San Pedro and shipped by barge or ship to Hawai‘i. (Dalton)
Since 1929, about 616,500 cubic yards of sand have been used to enlarge and replenish Waikiki Beach between Fort DeRussy and Kuhio Beach, but every year more erodes away. Little new sand has been added since the 1970s. (DLNR)
When I was at DLNR, we initiated a demonstration project to move nearshore sand back on to the beach. In 2006, DLNR spent $500,000 to siphon 10,000 cubic yards of offshore sand – this was the largest replenishment effort of Waikiki’s beaches in more than 30 years.
It worked; then, a larger project was implemented. Early in 2012, a larger-scale replenishment project pumped sand from 2,000 feet off Waikiki to fill in the shrinking beach.
The 2006 demonstration project and the 2012 larger scale replenishment were really recycling projects, because the sand now settled offshore was brought in years ago to fill out the beach.