Hawaii & Alaska
Hilo Beach Flooding, Hurricane Lane, Aug. 13, 2018 (Photo by Hollyn Johnson, Hawaii Tribune- Herald)

Hawaii: Waikiki flood concerns spur push for Hawaii shore protection

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii's iconic Waikiki Beach could soon be underwater as rising sea levels caused by climate change overtake its white sand beaches and bustling city streets.

Predicting Honolulu will start experiencing frequent flooding within the next 15 to 20 years, state lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would spend millions for a coastline protection program aimed at defending the city from regular tidal inundations.

The highest tides of recent years have sent seawater flowing across Waikiki Beach and onto roads and sidewalks lining its main thoroughfare, and interactive maps of the Hawaiian Islands show that many parts of the state are expected to be hit by extensive flooding, coastal erosion and loss of infrastructure in coming decades.

That’s an alarming scenario for a state where beach tourism is the primary driver of the economy, leading some lawmakers to insist that planning for rising tides should start now.

“The latest data on sea level rise is quite scary and it’s accelerating faster than we ever thought possible,” said state Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat and lead author of a bill calling for the creation and implementation of the shoreline protection plan. The project would focus on urban Honolulu but act as a pilot program for other coastal communities around the state.

While Hawaii is rarely subjected to direct hurricane hits, Lee’s bill says warmer oceans will increase that risk by creating “more hurricanes of increasing intensity” — and estimates the impact of a major hurricane making landfall at $40 billion.

“The loss of coastal property and infrastructure, increased cost for storm damage and insurance, and loss of life are inevitable if nothing is done, which will add a significant burden to local taxpayers, the state’s economy, and way of life,” says Lee’s bill, which is similar to action taken by New York City after a storm surge from Superstorm Sandy led to $19 billion in damage in 2012.

The Hawaii measure proposes sinking $4 million into the program’s development over the next two years. The bill also seeks more research into a carbon tax that might raise funds and lower the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Lee said urban areas such as Waikiki are often “built in such a way that it forms a protective barrier against the kind of storm events that are inevitable.”

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