An official of the U.S. Marine Corps says it is willing to talk with concerned ʻEwa Beach residents about a proposed barrier but maintains the Corps' analysis of the project's impacts followed federal guidelines.
The Marine Corps is planning to install a metal retaining wall at its Puʻuloa Range Training Facility (PRTF) in ʻEwa Beach. The project would move some of the facility's shoreline structures inland, and reinforce the rest by burying an approximately 1,500-foot barrier. The Marines say the project would make the firing range facility more resilient against coastal erosion and sea level rise.
The Marine Corps studied the potential impacts of the project, but says it didn't find any significant "impact on the quality of the human or natural environment."
Under federal regulations, an environmental impact statement (EIS) is not required given that finding.
But more than a thousand people have signed an online petition voicing their concerns about the project. Specifically, they say the wall would impact the coastal environment and surrounding community. The petition also urges the Marine Corps to perform an EIS.
Last week, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz echoed residents' concerns in a letter to General David Berger, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Schatz urged the Marine Corps to address the community's issues, further review the wall's environmental impact, and reconsider alternatives to protect the facility.
Sam Lemmo, with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, said any hardening of coastal areas would have significant impact on nearby beaches and communities.
"By putting a sea wall there, they're effectively going to starve the beach system in that part of ʻEwa," said Lemmo. "That will have immediate impacts on the beach in front of the structure. It will [also] have impacts to the east and west of the structure because those areas will become sand-starved."
The Marine Corps said it did its due diligence by working with state and federal agencies, and reaching out for community input to form its assessment.
"We did put it up for public comment, we did advertise it in the newspaper, and it is on our public website as well," said Lt. Colonel Eddie Pochop, Marine Corps Base Hawaii's environmental director. "Additionally, we went to the neighborhood board meeting so that I could address public concerns. I talked with community members there, and answered some of their questions."
Pochop said the Marine Corps worked with the State Historic Preservation Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the State Coastal Zone Management Office to determine the possible impacts of the project. He said all the agencies said there were no foreseeable impacts.
"I think there's some ideas that there's a massive shoreline redesign associated with this project," said Pochop. "The reality is, we're pushing some of our berms back, and we're putting in a sheet pile that's only going to be showing six to 12 inches. Plus we're going to be revegetating with native plants, and stabilize the sand."
Pochop said stewardship of natural resources and community relations remains a high priority for the Marine Corps.
"We're definitely open and willing to have further conversations with the community, and try to discuss and address their issues," said Pochop. "We're not hiding this from the public."
The project is currently awaiting final approval, before entering a design and contracting phase.