Today, citizen groups Public Access Shoreline Hawai`i and Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter, represented by Earthjustice, and the Board of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawai`i (BLNR) and Peter Young, Chair of BLNR, filed a settlement of the groups’ lawsuit in Hawai`i state court challenging the definition of the “shoreline” under the BLNR’s shoreline certification rules. In the settlement, the citizen groups agreed to drop the lawsuit in return for the BLNR’s agreement to initiate the process of amending the definition in the rules to remove any language suggesting a blanket preference for the vegetation line in determining the shoreline.
“We’re glad we could work with Chair Young and the BLNR to fix this particular glaring problem,” said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. “We are confident they will follow through with this improvement and others needed to address the ongoing statewide crisis of beach loss.”
Hawai`i statutes and court precedent establish the shoreline at the “upper annual reaches of the waves” as evidenced by the vegetation or debris line, whichever extends further mauka. The lawsuit had asserted that the BLNR’s rules conflicted with this law by creating a preference for the “vegetation line” over the “debris line” in determining shorelines.
This emphasis on vegetation, even where waves and debris extend further inland, has exacerbated beach erosion and loss statewide. Private landowners have improperly used the vegetation line and have actively induced vegetation to justify building closer to the ocean. This not only physically invades public beach and blocks access, but also accelerates erosion, ironically to the detriment of the landowner as well as the public.
A shoreline working group convened by the legislature unanimously agreed the emphasis on vegetation in the rules should be removed. The BLNR unanimously agreed in its last meeting on November 18, 2005 to proceed with this amendment.
“Hopefully, this initial change will finally inspire BLNR and our legislature to follow up with broader reforms of our shoreline setback system,” said Moriwake.