By Kioni Dudley
With the blessing of the city and state governments, rich and influential property owners are moving fullspeed ahead, building high-rises in Kakaako, Ala Moana, Waikiki and Moiliili, even though all are fully aware that rising sea levels could have those residential towers standing in mud in 30 years. If nature is allowed to take its course, residents would find living in the mud unbearable, and will abandon these high-rises, with no money set aside to deal with the structures.
There is a plan to fight sea-levelrise: bringing in pumps to get rid of the water, and bringing dirt to build up streets and the ground level. This is a stop-gap, short-term solution. Sea-level rise is relentless. It will continue for centuries.
And who will pay for raising the ground level? Taxpayers, of course. The need to raise the ground level will happen long after the buildings are constructed. As it stands now, the developers will build the towers, make hundreds of millions of dollars, and walk away, scot-free. We can’t let that happen. They must be forced to pay for their folly themselves.
Sea level rise is not the only problem for these low-lying areas. As oceans grow warmer due to climate change, hurricanes will become much more powerful and spread over far larger areas. Category 5 hurricanes may become the norm. More will aim directly at the Hawaiian islands.
Trade winds have always saved us, shearing off the edges of hurricanes as they move north, tearing them apart. In the early 1970s, we had 291 days of trade winds; today we have about 200, and are losing roughly two additional trade-wind days each year. In another 10 years, powerful hurricanes heading our way would find no trade winds to tear them apart on half of the days each year.
With each hurricane comes storm surge. In a storm surge of 25 feet, land that ordinarily stands 5 feet above sea level, would be 20 feet under water. University of Hawaii SOEST maps show that sea level rise of only 3 feet would flood all of Kakaako, Ala Moana, Waikiki and lower Moiliili. A 25-foot storm surge would fill this entire area with sea-water up to the third floor.
The only long-term, responsible action in face of sea level rise and storm surge is moving to higher ground. Our city and state should be denying every permit in these low-lying areas, and directing growth near and above the freeway.
At the very least, lower downtown, Kakaako, Ala Moana, Waikiki and lower Moiliili must be designated as a new “Special Sea-Level-Rise Storm Surge Impact District.” Impact fees must be charged that are sufficient to pay for the ground-raising project — and, should that fail, also be sufficient to tear down high-rises and to clean the swamp.
Fees must be collected from both builders and buyers, and placed in interest- accruing funds. Developers, the creators of the problem, must be taxed.
The impact fee should not just apply to future builders and buyers. Sealevel- rise problems for the area have been widely known for at least eight or nine years. In fairness, all who have built or bought in the district in that time should also incur this impact fee.
We cannot allow builders and buyers, who fully know the future phenomenal costs of raising the land, to move into these low-lying areas — and then stick island taxpayers with those costs. Demand that City Council members and legislators create this Special Impact District and fee.