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Kaua‘i council approves first-of-its-kind sea level rise bill

LIHU‘E — With a unanimous county council vote, Kaua‘i is set to become one of the first counties in the nation to regulate construction based on future sea level rise projections.

Bill No. 2879, which passed second reading Wednesday, requires the lowest floor of any new dwellings in the Sea Level Rise Constraint District be raised 2 feet above the highest sea level rise flood elevation as projected by a scientific model. New, non-livable buildings need to be raised 1 foot above the flood elevation projection. This differs from other sea level rise regulations, which tend to rely on historical data rather than future models.

“It’s a small but good first step in the direction of forecasting,” said council Vice Chair Mason Chock, who introduced the bill on behalf of the Kaua‘i Planning Department. “Government is typically reactive, but this is being proactive.”

The regulations also apply to significant rebuilds of existing structures, where the total cost equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the building.

According to Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull, the process of drafting the bill took several years due in part to the novelty of the idea. Aside from Boston, Massachusetts, Kaua‘i is the only municipality in the country to regulate construction based on future projections for sea level rise.

“Municipalities haven’t been able to thread the needle on how you use modeling as opposed to historical data to draft up regulations,” said Hull.

Hull addressed concerns about increased construction costs for homeowners as a result of the bill — saying that elevated construction is sometimes cheaper than traditional construction and that it helps homeowners out in the long run.

“Let’s help the local families build, by all means, but to what end if we know that within the lifetime of the structure it’s going to be underwater,” said Hull. “That doesn’t help them out.”

He estimated that the area included in the regulations made up about 3-4 percent of the island.

The environmental nonprofit Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony in favor of the legislation.

“Already, homes and infrastructure on the island are severely threatened by shoreline erosion and (sea level rise),” wrote Ruta Jordans, President of the Kaua‘i Chapter of Surfrider. “Shoreline erosion and (sea level rise) pose a complicated threat to the islands that require complex solutions to solve. Bill 2879 is an important part of that solution, as it will increase the resilience of Kaua‘i’ s shoreline and coastal communities to the impacts and hazards of (sea level rise).”

Sea levels at Nawiliwili Harbor are projected to rise between 4 and 5.8 feet in the next century, and 70 percent of Kaua‘i beaches face chronic erosion.

The model used to project sea level rise flooding was developed by the Climate Resilience Collaborative, a research program at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa led by leading sea level rise scientist Chip Fletcher.

Information on which areas are at risk of sea-level rise can be seen on a map viewable at: https://tgilinks.com/3eair5f

The bill will now go to Mayor Derek Kawakami’s desk for signature.
Source: The Garden Island

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