Hawaii Seawall Exemptions

Hawaii’s beaches are owned by the public, and the government is required to preserve them. So years ago, officials adopted a “no tolerance” policy toward new seawalls, which scientists say are the primary cause of coastal erosion. But over the past two decades, oceanfront property owners across the state have used an array of loopholes in state and county laws to get around that policy, armoring their own properties at the expense of the environment and public shoreline access.

This dataset contains information about properties that received exemptions from these environmental laws (and were allowed to keep existing shoreline structures or build new ones) between 2000 and 2020, including the type of exemption, the location of the site, the dates of the exemptions, and in some cases the fees paid. ProPublica and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser used the data to create this interactive map.

The data, which covers more than 230 exemptions, was compiled from public records requests filed with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources and the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting. The records include state approvals for seawall easements and emergency sandbags, as well as county approvals for new or illegally constructed seawalls.

Records on seawall easements were compiled from individual paper files archived at the DLNR, as well as annual government reports filed with the Hawaii Legislature. The data for emergency permits was derived from paper files at the DLNR. The City and County of Honolulu, as well as the counties of Maui and Kauai, provided files for shoreline setback variances requested by private property owners seeking approvals for shoreline hardening structures.

A handful of properties with a known exemption in the past two decades could not be linked up to an address from source documents and were not marked on the map. They are not included in this download.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Provided in collaboration with Honolulu Star-Advertiser

ProPublica & Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Part of these collections:

Hawaii, Local Reporting Network, Lat/Long, Mappable Data, and Coasts

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