A Sunset Beach homeowner appears to have dropped large amounts of concrete onto the world-famous beach fronting his property, sparking outrage on social media and eliciting calls for better enforcement of Hawaii’s coastal protection laws.
Josh VanEmmerik, owner of high-end cocktail bar Gaslamp in Kailua, purchased the property at 59-147 Ke Nui Road in December 2021 for $1 million, even though it’s among a strip of beachfront homes that for years has been at dire risk of being damaged by heavy surf, or even collapsing onto the beach.
Last week, North Shore resident Kevin Emery posted a video and photos on Instagram showing that the soft, white sand in front of VanEmmerik’s home had suddenly become rock hard. Emery said the homeowner had illegally poured 10 yards of concrete and set rebar all over the beach, and then covered it up with sand.
“Is this what people are allowed to do when they have money!? Are shoreline coastal rules allowed to be broken?” wrote Emery, who warned that the materials pose a danger to ocean users and the ecosystem.
The post quickly garnered hundreds of “likes” and comments as residents expressed anger toward the homeowner.
On Friday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands sent VanEmmerik a notice of alleged violation saying that a site inspection Sept. 28 revealed concrete, rebar and other unauthorized materials not just in front of the house at 59-147 Ke Nui Road, but also in front of the neighboring property at 59-147 A Ke Nui Road, which VanEmmerik purchased two months ago, also for $1 million, according to city records.
VanEmmerik, who is facing fines of up to $15,000 a day per violation if he doesn’t remove the material, did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment.
DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement could have taken action to halt the unauthorized work being done in front of VanEmmerik’s property, but it appears that officers didn’t immediately respond to a call that someone was pouring concrete onto the beach in front of 59-147 Ke Nui Road. DLNR said that the call had been assigned to the North Shore supervisor, but declined to comment further citing an active investigation.
DLNR also declined to make anyone available for an interview seeking more information about DOCARE’s enforcement powers.
The department said in a statement that DOCARE has been in the area repeatedly in recent weeks, as well as in the past several years. “DOCARE’s observations and documentation help verify any alleged violations,” DLNR said. DLNR said that OCCL and DOCARE work closely together on alleged violations.
DLNR’s coastal lands office, which is charged with protecting the public beaches and sensitive coastal ecosystem, has been slowly bringing shoreline violations to the Land Board, which oversees DLNR. But the process is often slow and frustrating. Violations can take years to resolve as wealthy property owners challenge them in court.
The concrete is just the latest violation of Hawaii’s beach protection laws along this stretch of coastline between Rocky Point and Sunset Beach. The coastline has increasingly become marred by heavy boulders, long sandbags and heavy black tarps that property owners have dumped onto the beach, mostly without permission. During certain periods of the year, this stretch of beach has become impassable for the public and increasingly dangerous as the materials get pulled into the ocean and torn apart in heavy surf.
On Friday, two women could be seen pulling a heavy, black tarp out of the surf near VanEmmerik’s properties. “It’s just gross,” said Jayda Nelson.
“It’s just crazy because all of that is going to end up in the water,” she said, observing the coastline.
Lauren Blickley, Hawaii regional manager for Surfrider Foundation, has been working with stakeholders to try to come up with solutions for the North Shore, which has become a focal point in battles between private property owners seeking to protect their investment, and the public, which owns the beach.
Shoreline hardening, including seawalls and other barriers, is strictly prohibited in Hawaii, unless a property owner can obtain an exemption from the county or state. The barriers have contributed to the loss of about one-quarter of Oahu’s beaches.
“For somebody to dump concrete with rebar on our public beaches is a sucker punch,” said Blickley. “It feels like your hands as the public are completely tied.”
Blickley said that because there is no immediate repercussion for property owners, it emboldens them to continue violating shoreline laws.
In addition to pushing for new legislation next year that could stiffen enforcement, Blickley said that social media is increasingly becoming a tool for the public to protest violations along public beaches. In addition to posts about Oahu’s North Shore, west Maui residents have increasingly turned to platforms such as Facebook to post videos and photos of the destruction along Maui’s leeward beaches where high-end resorts also are battling to save their properties.
“You literally have to put the coastal homeowners on blast and from a community standpoint saying this is not OK. You can’t do this. This isn’t your right to destroy our public beaches,” Blickley said.
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