The distance from the state’s most remote spot of land to the shoreline is about 28½-miles; almost half of Hawai‘i is within only 5-miles of the coastline.
Hawai‘i’s historical, cultural, religious, environmental, social, recreational and economic foundations are centered on its coasts.
While it is such an important resource for us, we continue to have conflicts within this area. We need to address coastal concerns from these same broad, interconnected perspectives.
On the local level, I think we should expand our discussions to look at the myriad coastal concerns. Here are just a few of the initial discussion points and introductory questions I think we should consider:
- Traditional and cultural practices (How should we assure that these rights are protected?)
- Public access (How should we enhance opportunities for access to and across our island coastlines?)
- Use of public property (How should we deal with the inherent conflict between wanting to increase the opportunities for the public to use and enjoy public resources, while not over-burdening these fragile resources?)
- Commercial activities (Many commercial operators provide services residents and visitors want and/or need – how should we balance these activities with other coastal uses?)
- Economy (How should we accomplish the essential balance of preserving and protecting our natural and cultural resources, while enhancing our economic opportunities?)
- Private versus public interests (How should we balance private and public rights and interests?)
- Carrying capacity of our coastlines (How should we deal with increasing numbers of residents, visitors and commercial users wanting to enjoy our coastal resources?)
- User conflicts (How should we address user conflicts, not only from the perspective “between” different coastal user groups, but also conflicts “within” groups?)
- Natural hazards (How should we mitigate impacts by natural causes, such as erosion, high surf, tsunami, hurricanes, etc?)
- Marine ecosystems (How should we protect our marine habitats, coral reefs, fisheries, etc?)
- Land-based influences on coastal resources (How should we deal with near shore improvements (public and private,) protecting open space, shoreline hardening, irrigation and storm run-off, etc?)
- Encroachment onto public lands (Whether they involve structures, landscaping or irrigation, storage of personal property or other, what are the responsibilities of private property owners encroaching onto state (public) property?)
- Shoreline modification (What responsibilities do people have to the public trust and their neighbors when they put up seawalls or other shore-hardening or altering structures?)
- Enforcement (Given the size and distribution of state resources, it is impossible for enforcement officers to be in all places at all times – how should we work better to enforce state laws and rules?)
- Setbacks (Given the diversity of shoreline characteristics (sandy beach, rocky coast, lava cliffs, manmade structures, etc,) should we consider alternative setback approaches, rather than the typical “one size fits all” process we have now?)
- Jurisdiction (Should more authority be delegated to the Counties? Since shoreline certifications address County setbacks, should we assign the certification process to the Counties? How should we work better with the community?)
- Impacts on natural resources (Given all these concerns, how should we preserve and enhance what we have? What is the future of our shoreline, beaches, coral reefs, biodiversity of the near-shore waters, etc?)
- Rising sea level and projections of stronger and more frequent El Niño events and tropical cyclones in waters surrounding Hawai‘i all indicate a growing vulnerability to coastal flooding and erosion.
- Responsibility (What are our individual and collective responsibilities? How can we all work better together?)
Our natural and cultural resources form the foundation of our quality of life and they are the backdrop to our economy. They are the essence of our sense of place; they make Hawai’i, Hawai’i.
Coastal concerns are complicated and connected.
There are, obviously, a variety of coastal controversies, conflicts and concerns, as well as equally complex solutions to these matters. In addressing one concern, we cannot overlook how solutions for it may impact others.
We need collaborative solution-based dialogue and action, involving all constituency and user groups, to make sure we continue to make Hawai’i a great place to live – not just for now, but for the generations to come.
I am proud to have represented Hawai‘i on the Coastal States Organization, as well as served on the Coastal States Stewardship Foundation.
We share a lot of challenges related to the coasts across the country. We can work together and learn from each other in addressing them.
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