Erosion at Sunset Beach could cause ‘catastrophic’ collapse, state says
The severely eroding cliff and shoreline at Sunset Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore have reached inland at an unprecedented level, forcing city officials to implement immediate safety measures.
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The severely eroding cliff and shoreline at Sunset Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore have reached inland at an unprecedented level, forcing city officials to implement immediate safety measures and consider long-term solutions.
“The 20-foot cliff is very unstable, and we’re asking folks to stay away,” said Jim Howe, director of the Honolulu Department of Emergency Services, at a press conference Thursday morning outside of Honolulu Hale. “It can collapse, and if it collapses it can be pretty catastrophic.”
Nor should people walk down smaller cliffs, he said, because that can cause further erosion.
City crews Thursday afternoon demolished and removed an 11-by-11-foot storage shed that had been teetering on the edge of the 20-foot drop, posing a safety hazard. They also removed concrete rubble — including parts of the bike path — that had fallen in the shorebreak area. The shed had been used to house essential equipment for North Shore lifeguards, which will now temporarily be stored across the street.
Barricades were expected to go up along the makai side of Kamehameha Highway, with parking restrictions along roughly 500 feet of the road — from across from the Sunset Beach comfort station to Paumalu Place, where it is the most narrow, according to Jon Nouchi, deputy director of the Department of Transportation Services.
Last week the city relocated the Sunset Beach lifeguard tower farther back so it would not end up in the ocean due to the erosion. Earlier, the bike path was temporarily moved mauka, closer to the highway, so motorists are advised to watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians in the area.
Although this is not the first time erosion has occurred at Sunset Beach, it is the most severe and farthest inland that city and state officials say they have ever seen it.
Dolan Eversole, a coastal geologist with the University of Hawaii, said it has reached “unprecedented levels” and is a chronically eroding shoreline, meaning that it does not recover back to the level it was the prior year during the summer.
Homeowners are also on edge, according to city officials, worrying about their properties eroding.
The situation, unfortunately, isn’t expected to get any better with incoming, northerly swells expected through Christmas and New Year’s, causing further instability and erosion.
Sam Lemmo, a coastal lands administrator under the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said while some short-term solutions are in place to keep the erosion at bay, the continuation of sea level rise means Hawaii will need long-term solutions, which will be challenging, expensive and painful.
Howe said the city and state were working together to closely monitor the Sunset Beach situation and making public safety a top priority, for now, but working on a long-term plan for the future because the erosion is only expected to continue. Beach erosion has occurred at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki and in Kailua, too.
“We … are surrounded by ocean,” said Howe. “And one of the things we need to know and I know as a surfer is that you never fight the ocean, you flow with it. You’ve got to go with it, and if you try to fight it, you’re not going to win. It’s bigger than all of us.”
While the Billabong Pipe Masters just concluded, the Sunset Open surf competition is scheduled for mid-January.
Jodi Wilmott, general manager of the World Surf League Hawaii/Tahiti, said the competition is a smaller, regional event for locals and that it does not have the same high impact as earlier events. She hopes it will still go forward as planned but is monitoring the situation.
“We would like to continue to work with the city and parks department to make sure everything is safe and sound,” she said. “We do hope to do it.”
City officials caution North Shore visitors to beware of the situation on the highway.
“I know the waves are magnificent, but please, try to refrain from stopping and causing any delay on that highway,” said Jon Nouchi, deputy director of the city Department of Transportation Services.