Homeowners along Sunset Beach, Punaluu and Portlock on Oahu, as well as a property owner on Molokai, are facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for allegedly constructing illegal seawalls and boulder revetments along Hawaii’s beaches.
The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources, which adopted a no-tolerance policy in 1999 forbidding new seawalls, is scheduled to hear the cases today during its bimonthly board meeting. Oahu already has lost about one-quarter of its beaches to shoreline hardening, and scientists warn that figure could increase to 40% by 2050 if the state doesn’t enforce stricter policies.
As waves hit walls along beaches that are naturally trying to migrate inland, they claw away at the sand in front of them, causing beaches to disappear.
Two of the properties facing fines are along Oahu’s Sunset Beach, part of a stretch of coastline known as the Seven Mile Miracle, famous for its stunning beauty and abundance of prime surf breaks. The beach has been hammered by large swells and increased erosion in recent years, a situation that scientists say will only get worse as Hawaii begins to feel the effects of accelerated sea level rise caused by climate change.
Famous surfer Liam McNamara and wife Brandee are facing fines of $35,000 for the construction of a new seawall in front of a home along Ke Nui Road that they bought in 2019. McNamara declined to comment on the alleged violation.
Rodney Youman, who owns a home just down the shore, is facing a fine of $32,000 for allegedly piling rocks along the shoreline, forming a wall that extended onto the public beach. Photographs of the property taken last year show a tangled mess of rocks; heavy, black tarps; and long, sand-filled tubes, referred to as burritos, strewn along the shore.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources authorized the burritos in 2018 as a temporary emergency measure to save the house from being sucked into the ocean. That same year, unauthorized rocks and mortar were placed underneath the structure, according to DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Resources, but the office didn’t pursue a violation case. State officials visited the property again last year and found large rocks and boulders along the beach in front of the home and an authorized burrito on the beach.
Youman, who lives on the mainland and rents out the home to vacationers when he is not in Hawaii, said that any violations that may have occurred have since been remedied. He said he didn’t build a rock revetment in front of his home. Rather, a palm tree in front of his house got knocked down in August when a hurricane passed dangerously close to Hawaii, he said, leaving a big hole in his front yard. Youman said he had a contractor fill the hole with rocks, which fell onto the shoreline when his burritos began collapsing and getting ripped open from the heavy surf. Youman said he recently paid contractors to remove the rocks.
For homeowners, living along the coast is a risky proposition. As the ocean migrates landward, so does the public shoreline, according to state laws and Hawaii Supreme Court rulings. The state is required to protect this land for the public.
Youman said that if he had known that, he wouldn’t have bought the property in 2016.
A surfer who grew up in Ecuador, Youman said he always wanted to own a home in Hawaii. “My lifelong dream became a reality in 2016, but it’s slowly becoming a nightmare,” he said.
Youman recently moved the home back 20 feet to try to protect it.
The Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands is also seeking to fine George and Susan Peabody $80,000 for building an illegal seawall in front of their home on Molokai. State officials say the illegal wall was built in 1998 and more recently reconstructed. State officials tried to fine George Peabody $2,500 in 1999 and force the wall to be taken down, but the order was never enforced.
Peabody did not respond to an email seeking comment and could not be reached by phone. But in an email to state officials last year, he argued he should be allowed to keep the seawall and characterized DLNR’s enforcement efforts as “harassment, abusive and unconstitutional threats.”
“The ultimate goal of beach climate alarmists is to push socialism,” he wrote.
Robert Wells is also facing a $65,000 fine for building an unauthorized rock wall along the beach in Portlock, and Zdenek Prchal is facing a $17,000 fine for building a rock wall along a beach in Punaluu. Neither homeowner could be reached for comment.
In addition to the fines, the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands is recommending that the Land Board order all unauthorized shoreline structures be removed and levy fines against the property owners of $15,000 for every day they don’t comply.
In the past, the Land Board has been lenient when it comes to fining homeowners. From 2012 to 2019, DLNR’s coastal lands office recommended $310,000 in fines for 13 homeowners, according to a review of records by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The board knocked those fines down to a total of $42,000.
DLNR officials declined to comment on the current cases or past reduction of fines.
In their written recommendations to the Land Board, officials with the coastal lands office stressed that Hawaii’s beaches are held in trust by the state for “the benefit of present and future generations” and are some of the state’s “most valued natural resources.”
Dolan Eversole, a coastal geologist with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, said he was particularly concerned about unauthorized structures along Oahu’s North Shore where retreating from the shoreline could still save the prized beaches.
“There is an inherent duty of the state to protect and maintain these public areas,” he said.