A bill that won initial approval before the Honolulu City Council's Zoning Committee Thursday would allow homeowners to skip the lengthy and sometimes costly process of applying for a shoreline variance to build a seawall and instead replace it with a minor shoreline structure permit.
Deputy Director Art Challacombe of the city's Department of Planning and Permitting said an environmental assessment, which is required before a shoreline variance is issued, is the only document his agency can use to judge whether a seawall or retaining wall will cause significant impact to surrounding areas.
"Without an environmental assessment or other studies, DPP really does not have a vehicle to analyze the project," said Challacombe.
Bill 17 was introduced by council Chairman Ernie Martin, who believes the current process for erecting seawalls or retaining walls is too costly and time consuming.
"It is a complicated legal process out of reach for many land owners, especially families on the windward side who have experienced years of continuous erosion of their property," Martin said in an email to KITV4.
Local attorney Howard Green helped craft language in the bill after DPP began investigating two retaining walls that were built on his Kaneohe property on Aumoana Place in October 2011.
Green did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment, but DPP said he applied for a shoreline variance March 12 and has racked up $37,450 in fines. DPP spokesman Curtis Lum said Green is being fined $50 per day and all fines are outstanding.
"Once the matter is resolved, DPP director (George Atta) will determine what portion of the fine will have to be paid," Lum wrote in an email.
Bill 17 passed the first reading, but council members Breene Harimoto and Ron Menor voted with reservations.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources believes the current process for erecting seawalls works and has come out against the bill.
"We understand the city's desire to streamline permitting for shoreline structures. However, given what we know about sea level rise predictions, seawalls and other shoreline hardening structures will negatively impact Hawaii's sandy beaches," said Sam Lemmo, administrator of DLNR's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. "We encourage landowners to consider less permanent shoreline protection measures."