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Hawai`i Shoreline Access Suit Settled

In December 2005, the State of Hawai'i Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) agreed to begin the process of amending the definition of "shoreline" to remove any language suggesting a blanket preference for the vegetation line in determining the shoreline. In return, the citizen groups Public Access Shoreline Hawai'i and Sierra Club, Hawai'i Chapter dropped their lawsuit against the BLNR. Both citizen groups were represented by Earthjustice.

Long-standing Hawai'i law establishes the shoreline at "the upper reaches of the wash of the waves, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation or the line of debris left by the wash of the waves" and emphasizes the overall policy of "extending to public use and ownership as much of Hawai'i's shoreline as is reasonably possible." The shoreline certification rules of the BLNR, however, created a preference for vegetation by allowing consideration of the debris line only in cases "where there is no vegetation in the immediate vicinity." These rules encouraged private landowners to take over public beaches by artificially extending the vegetation line seaward, and allowed development to encroach too close to the ocean. This policy contributed to beach loss and erosion throughout the state.

Thanks to the settlement, the BLNR will proceed with amending the definition of shoreline, in order to prevent beach loss and protect public access to precious shoreline resources.