Kaua’i council approves special sea level rise bill

Sean Ahearn

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, will require 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 has been said that the process of drafting this 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.

There are concerns about increased construction costs for homeowners as a result of this bill. The new 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. These regulations, however, only make up about 3-4 percent of the island’s estimated area.

The Surfrider Foundation, in favor of this bill, has stated that the shoreline erosion and sea level rise pose a complicated threat to the islands and will require complex solutions to solve. This new bill 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 the rising sea levels. 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.


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