Mama’s Fish House owner, Maui County reach agreement over shoreline violation
Debate over beach restoration is heating up again on Maui, this time on the north shore fronting Mama’s Fish House.
Kuau Cove Properties, which owns Mama’s Fish House land, was fined $120,000 by the county for illegally placing sand in the shoreline area in 2019.
Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday heard a settlement agreement that proposed the landowner pay a lesser fine of $25,000 in exchange for committing to a costlier, five-year beach nourishment project fronting the restaurant. After hours of mixed testimony and discussion, the panel voted unanimously to accept the settlement agreement — with a fine of $60,000 instead of $25,000.
Some public testifiers said the situation is another example of rich landowners skirting rules; penalties should stand to discourage such practices; and many beach nourishment programs are temporary fixes against erosion but have lasting negative impacts to the environment.
Maui native and fisherman Paul Hanada testified that if the fines are lessened, it will send the wrong message to shoreline neighbors.
“This project is not the only one that does illegal sand replenishment projects — there’s a lot of people along that coastline that will bring in sand,” he testified. “I have proof; I have photos.”
“As a diver, I got a little frustrated because of all the turbidity and the negative impact to the shoreline,” Hanada added.
Shoreline activist Kai Nishiki said the landowner was advised about the right way to do sand replenishment and instead went the unpermitted route.
“The beaches and the reefs and the ocean can’t show up here to testify, they really rely on you folks to stand up for them and defend them,” she testified. “Mama’s Fish House is very well known and loved in our community . . . We want to support these businesses. The thing is that they were aware of what the right thing to do was, they were advised by a coastal planner what they should’ve done. They went completely the opposite way and chose to do things on their own without permits.”
Other testifiers, including Kuau Cove resident Howard Cooney, said the settlement agreement is a “win-win” for the community because money will be used to restore the beach.
Mama’s Fish House owner Floyd Christenson said the incident involved only a small amount of sand, the repair was an emergency so the public could safely access the shore after a storm event and that he wasn’t privy to the decision to install sand, which was made by his head of maintenance.
Still, Christenson, 88, accepted responsibility and apologized for the unpermitted sand replenishment.
“It happened, I regret it,” he said. “I think the best thing now is to move forward and see what we can do.”
After hours of testimony and discussion, with many people discussing their connections to the north shore beach fronting Mama’s, an original motion to accept the agreement failed.
Some commissioners indicated they would support the agreement if the fine amount was raised from $25,000 to $60,000 and the project commitments remained intact.
Christenson agreed with the new terms and touched on hardships surrounding the “honest mistake.”
“I’m withholding the tears of you losing your wife and hiring your grandkids’ uncle; that’s what Maui’s about,” commissioner Kellie Pali said before the vote. “We’re not here to attack each other and hold up a law that hurts. The law is there to show that we’re watching, to be the first step in rectifying the problem. It’s not to be hardline. The minute Maui goes fully hard line, we’re in trouble.”
The commission voted 7-0, with two absent and excused, to accept the settlement agreement with a fine of $60,000.
With the agreement between the county and Kuau Cove Properties, the group will cover the costs of the shoreline project, estimated to be $165,000 to $240,000. Kuau Cove Properties is also responsible for ongoing maintenance of the project, according to county documents.
The shoreline project, which was developed by Kuau Cove Properties consultants, county Planning department shoreline planners and the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Agent, will install three vegetated sand berms in the shoreline area to fill the embankment but still allow access to the ocean.
Kuau Cove Properties will have to continue to work with the county to obtain shoreline and special management area approvals.
Although Maui County is faced with severe coastal erosion, residents and lawmakers are mixed on how to tackle the problem – and where financial responsibility lies, whether the state, the county or the landowner.
Typically the shoreline is managed by the county (onshore), the state (seaward of shoreline or high-water mark) and the federal government (into the water).
Some proposed beach nourishment projects on the west side have sparked passionate resident testimony, with coastal owners sparring against area residents over the best ways to mitigate erosion.