Land Board fines homeowners with illegal seawalls

HONOLULU — The state Board of Land and Natural Resources ordered the removal of several illegal seawalls along beaches on Oahu and Molokai and issued fines to the property owners.

Members of the board expressed growing concern Friday about the loss of state beaches because of the unsanctioned structures.


Iconic beaches on Oahu’s North Shore have increasingly become littered with illegal boulders, walls and emergency sandbags and tarps ripped apart by powerful waves.

Hawaii Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator Sam Lemmo told the board that persistent use of the illegal walls will have drastic results.

“If you allow them to build seawalls, I guarantee you, I put my career on this, this beach resource is going to be gone for the next generation,” Lemmo said. “This is not a beach resource that we can just let go. It’s too valuable.”

The coastal land office sought a $35,000 penalty against surfer Liam McNamara and his wife, Brandee, for a seawall fronting their Oahu home. The office said neither the original wall built decades ago nor subsequent repairs were authorized.

The wall nearly failed last year and the McNamaras used a cement truck to reinforce and rebuild parts of the structure.

The board voted to issue a $5,000 fine, rather than the full amount the land office recommended.

Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case said the board’s responsibility is to protect the state’s beaches, rather than private property, and ultimately homeowners need to retreat from the shoreline.

“The only way to protect the beach is for the homes to be gone, and you are just the tip of the sword here in a very, very difficult situation that is very, very important to the public,” Case told the McNamaras during the videoconference.

The board took a tougher stance concerning a Molokai property owned by George Peabody, who was fined $80,000 and ordered to remove his seawall.

Several property owners with cases before the board indicated they may appeal its decision, prolonging the process.


The land board adopted a zero-tolerance policy on illegal seawalls in 1999 amid growing alarm about beach loss.

Oahu has lost about a quarter of its beaches to shoreline hardening, which experts said could grow to 40% by 2050 without enforcement of strict policies.

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