On the island of Kauai, Hawaii in the USA, the local governing county has implemented flexible and protective coastal setbacks that protect communities from coastal erosion and avoid shoreline armouring in the long term.
Based on J.F. O’Connell et al. (2010): "The island of Kauai, Hawaii's progressive shoreline setback and coastal protection ordinance" In: Shifting Shorelines: Adapting to the Future,The 22nd International Conference of The Coastal Society , June 13-16, 2010 ,Wilmington, North Carolina.
In this particular case, there is a disconnect between state regulations on coastal zone management and local or County regulations. In Hawaii, there are state laws that require setbacks along shorelines that are no less than 20 and not more than 40 feet inland from the shoreline and armouring the shoreline is permitted. The regulations at the state level, have however, led to inappropriate constructions in areas that jeopardize the island’s valuable sandy beaches. Thus in spite of an innovative and flexible Ordinance developed in 2008 called the ‘Shoreline Setback and Coastal Protection Ordinance’, the state still allows armouring.
The Ordinance puts into place procedures establishing minimum construction setbacks based on average lot depth and long-term shoreline erosion rates that are generated by the University of Hawaii.
The objectives of the Ordinance are manifold:
- To provide a buffer zone to protect shorefront development from loss due to coastal erosion for a period of time;
- To provide protection from storm waves;
- To allow the natural dynamic cycles of erosion and accretion of beaches and dunes to occur;
- To maintain beach and dune habitat;
- And to maintain lateral beach access and open space for the enjoyment of the natural shoreline environment.
- To avoid armouring or hardening the shore which along eroding coasts has been documented to ultimately eliminate the fronting beach.
The Island of Kauai is a county within Hawaii and is also the fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands. It is vulnerable to a variety of coastal hazards including inundation, erosion, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
On the island of Kauai the coasts and sandy beaches are important to the economy and the community. Shoreline armoring as a measure for dealing with climate change can benefit coastal infrastructure but it can also threaten coastal marine habitats and beaches. The potential loss of sandy beaches due to coastal hardening is particularly important in a state like Hawaii and specifically on Kauai where the local economy depends on tourism and beach activities.
In Kauai, the county takes the state wide implemented setback of 40 feet as a minimum standard and finds flexible and specific setback lines based on average lot depth and long-term coastal erosion rates that are developed and provided by the University of Kauai. The county, therefore, has taken steps to avoid shoreline armoring and establish safe and environmentally effective setback distances for construction of structures with a 2008 Ordinance. However, the regulations developed at the County level do not match those set by the state.
The Kauai case study provides an example of when different levels of government set different regulations that are in conflict with one another. In Kauai, a local level Ordinance has set environmentally protective standards in place that go further than State coastal zone management laws to ensure the integrity of Kauai’s sandy beaches. While the State sets general measures for coastal setbacks and infrastructure development, the County appears to be setting up legislation that is more accurately informed by local circumstances and data and that prioritizes environmental considerations.
The Ordinance puts into place procedures establishing setbacks that go beyond the state-wide laws. The County setbacks also consider lot depth and long-term shoreline erosion rates. In order to determine the erosion rates of different areas around the island, the County has partnered with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program to conduct an assessment on Climate Change and Coastal Hazards in Kauai and to provide data regularly.
In Kauai, the county takes the state wide implemented setback of 40 feet as a minimum standard and finds flexible and specific setback lines based on average lot depth and long-term coastal erosion rates that are developed and provided by the University of Kauai. For existing structures 20 feet is the minimum setback area. It also requires lot depths of greater than 160 feet with a proposed building footprint less than or greater than 5000 square feet to calculate the setback by multiplying the erosion rate by 70 or 100, respectfully on top of a forty food safety buffer.
The purpose of the Ordinance is to ensure that structures are not built in areas that are vulnerable to hazards and that shoreline hardening is avoided and not depended on to protect property during its lifetime. There are also specific rules regarding activities and structures that are allowed within the setback are, however, no structure approved within the setback area by variance will be eligible for protection by shoreline hardening.
There are several interesting elements of the Kauai case study. Firstly, there is an inter-change between local levels of the island County and established state laws on zoning and management. The Ordinance that determines county rules for setback measures is more protective and exact in determining the rules for building and at the same time was designed in a way that is flexible to specific projects and also informed by local data and research. The partnership between the County and the University of Kauai to establish appropriate setback measurements based on erosion rates on the island illustrates the importance of partnerships between governing entities and institutions with relevant scientific data and knowledge. Finally, the Ordinance is designed to be somewhat flexible but is ultimately environmentally focused in protecting the integrity of sandy beaches and avoiding the hardening of the coast in the future to protect any existing structures.