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Hawai‘i Attorney General Issues Opinion on Shoreline Migration

December 13, 2017, 12:49 PM HST
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Shoreline erosion, North Shore of O‘ahu. UH photo.

Hawai‘i Attorney General Doug Chin issued a formal advisory opinion today, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, stating that when the shoreline migrates landward (or mauka) due to erosion or sea level rise, the dividing line between public and private ownership also migrates mauka.

“Global warming and sea level rise are scientific fact,” Attorney General Chin said. “This opinion emphasizes that Hawai‘i law plainly states that beaches and shoreline features remain our common heritage as part of the public trust when the shoreline moves.”

The opinion, supported in part by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gold Coast Neighborhood Association v. State (2017), states that “[t]his migration does not give rise to a constitutional claim by the former owner … this result is not affected by laws relating to the acquisition of real property, [and] the attorney general does not need to give prior approval in connection with such land.” The opinion further provides that the Board of Land and Natural Resources should charge former owners fair market value in return for an easement interest in the land.

The opinion was issued as a result of a request for advice from Suzanne Case, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources about the land board’s practice of requiring private owners of coastal properties to obtain easements for structures that were originally constructed on private property but are now located on state-owned land due to the landward migration of the shoreline.

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