Surfers Protest Waikiki Beach Repair Plan

As reported by Mary Vorsino for the Honolulu Advertiser.

A handful of concerned residents came out last night for the first public meeting on a plan to restore a stretch of sandy beach in front of the Sheraton Waikiki with three, 160-foot-long rock groins in the water.

Several groups, including those representing surfers, are worried the groins would harm the environment and popular surf breaks. “The bottom line is this: No groins,” said George Downing, spokesman for environmental group Save Our Surf.

John Carroll, attorney for the group, agreed. “We are ready to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to to stop this,” Carroll told meeting attendees last night.

The Sheraton Waikiki announced in August that it was moving to seek approvals and permits for its Gray’s Beach restoration plan, which includes the construction of three T-head rock groins in the water. Workers would also pump in about 15,000 cubic yards of sand from offshore to create a sandy beach big enough for 500 people (where there is currently only a small beach at very low tides).

Officials expect to release a draft environmental assessment for the project by mid-2009. If all the required permits for the project are awarded, work is expected to wrap up in 2011, after six to nine months of construction and sand pumping.

The meeting yesterday — which officially kicks off the environmental assessment process — was meant as a chance for the public to sound off on the Sheraton plan. About 15 people came out to the Waikiki Community Center last night to get details on the beach restoration proposal and air their concerns.

Their comments will be used in the environmental assessment process.

Douglas Miki, of Hawai’i Kai, who surfs, kayaks and dives in Waikiki, opposes the Sheraton plan, calling it “unsightly.”

“I think it changes the shoreline,” he said. “It’s certainly going to affect the surf zones. I don’t care what they say.”

But Rick Egged, Waikiki Improvement Association president, supported the project. “It’s important to the whole effort to be able to provide a restoration of the beach in this particular area,” said Egged, whose organization recently completed a study on the potential economic impacts if Waikiki Beach were to completely erode. “We believe this project is an important step forward,” Egged said.

If it goes through, the Sheraton project would be the first major shoreline restoration in Waikiki undertaken by a hotel since the early 20th century, and the groins would be the first permanent structures aimed at stopping erosion to be built off Waikiki in 30 years. The last groin was built in 1971 off Fort DeRussy.

The $4 million Sheraton beach project comes as tourism officials are raising concerns about the gradual disappearance of Waikiki Beach to erosion. Some have said the project could spur other hotels to take a more active role in what many call one of the biggest problems facing the state’s No. 1 tourist destination.

Kyo-ya Hotel and Resorts, which owns the Sheraton Waikiki, first started studying the possibilities for restoring the beach in 2005, and officials have had discussions on the project with small groups of surfers and other interest groups.

Sea Engineering Inc., which designed the three T-shaped groins Sheraton proposes to install, said the structures would fit in well with other possible erosion-abatement additions along the shoreline and would likely not affect the Populars surf break. The overall impact of the groins is also expected to be minimal, Sea Engineering said.

But the EIS is expected to flesh out the exact impact on the environment.

The groins would be constructed with 2,800- to 4,800-pound rocks, which would stick about 2 feet out of the water at high tide. They would be spaced some 250 feet apart. The technology behind the structures has been used elsewhere.

For the full article head to the Honolulu Advertiser.