Bills impacting Coastal Development and Flood Mitigation that are advancing through Legislature in the 2019 Session

Lawmakers are trying to figure out how which roads, homes, hotels and businesses should be set back farther from the ocean and which ones should be protected from rising seas, increasing floods and other impacts.

House Bill 549, introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen and 15 fellow House members, would require new developments to plan for the impacts of projected sea level rise and prohibit development in areas significantly affected.

The measure, which cleared the chamber unanimously, highlights the inadequacies of the current coastal zone management policies and regulations with respect to the protection of beaches. It would work to strengthen efforts to conserve beaches while also reducing shorefront communities’ exposure to hazard.

House Bill 1487, which also passed unanimously, creates a shoreline pilot project to develop a plan to protect urban Honolulu from the acute impacts of climate change. It’s about flood-proofing the urban core.

It underscores how a direct hit from a hurricane — severe storms are increasing in frequency due to climate change — could cost an estimated $40 billion in damage to Hawai'i’s infrastructure and economy.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lowen and Rep. Chris Lee, calls on the climate commission to plan for protection of low-lying areas between the Honolulu airport and Diamond Head. “Protection compartments” along that stretch would include flood-protection zones, a continuous shoreline path that could be used for emergencies, and steps to make each area self-reliant if it became isolated.

A separate measure that would have directed the climate commission to determine areas in each county to designate for either armoring or managed retreat died last month, but elements of it are still alive in other bills.

Senate Bill 644 had cleared its first hurdle, with Sens. Kai Kahele and Mike Gabbard moving it through their Agriculture and Environment and Water and Land committees. The committees found it “imperative” for the Legislature to start implementing the climate commission’s recommendations from the sea-level rise report, which include planning and funding coastal adaptations to sea-level rise now to avoid crises in the next decade.

In a joint committee report, Kahele and Gabbard said identification and determination of shoreline armoring and retreat should be prioritized.

Lawmakers are moving on another coastal matter backed by the climate commission.

A couple bills would require some form of mandatory disclosure when selling coastal property that is vulnerable to sea level rise exposure areas as designated by the Climate Commission.

Senate Bill 1126 and Senate Bill 1340 crossed over to the House, which did not move forward with its version of the measure.

“These bills are critically important for complementing our adaptation effort,” Lemmo said.

One of the broader policy bills that’s moving forward this session is Dela Cruz’s Senate Bill 393, which amends the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Lemmo said he particularly likes how it identifies sea level rise now as one of the coastal hazards that must be considered.

He said it also amends language regarding shoreline armoring to improve protection of sandy beaches by putting the onus on the regulatory agency and the applicants to prove that what they are proposing will not have negative consequences.

Another bill that could have broad implications is also still alive. House Bill 461 directs the climate commission to prioritize infrastructure and identify vulnerable roads, bridges and other properties based on exposure to sea level rise. It also calls for funding the climate coordinator position.

“I’m sort of pleasantly surprised at this point with respect to what I see in play still,” Lemmo said. “I’m also pleasantly surprised that they have taken our amendments and have incorporated many of them into the measures.”

Lawmakers are also looking at climate change from an organizational standpoint. House Bill 1586 would create a new Department of the Environment, incorporating the Office of Environmental Quality Control (now under the Department of Health) and state energy office (now under the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism).

Another Senate Bill  SB1054 SD2 Requires the State and counties to incorporate predictions of sea level rise and other climate change hazards and mitigation opportunities into applicable plans, strategies, and mapping. Requires the Public Utilities Commission, and any public utility regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, to consider the findings in the Hawai'i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report. Encourages each county to participate in the community rating system developed by the National Flood Insurance Program. Effective 7/1/2050. (SD2)

It is currently going through the House of Representatives and passed a first hearing.

We will continue to post updates as relevant bills pass Legislature.

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