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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

Study to quantify cost of beach loss

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has hired an expert to find out what it will cost Hawai'i — and the nation — if Waikiki Beach is not protected from erosion.

Economic consultant Linda Lent has been hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a study of the economic impact of beach erosion at Waikiki. The corps also plans a study this year of beach restoration methods.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Economic consultant Linda K. Lent of Maryland, who did a similar study for the ocean beaches of Delaware, said yesterday she expects to be able say how much the state and national economies will be affected if just one visitor arrives and can't find a place on the sand.

Howard Marlowe, legislative coordinator for the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, hailed the effort yesterday.

"Waikiki is one of the nation's most important beaches," said Marlowe, contacted in Washington, D.C.

"Like Miami Beach, it attracts a large number of foreign tourists whose spending adds significantly to the economies of the state and the nation."

The Lent study could put Hawai'i in the midst of a federal debate over how much the Corps of Engineers should spend on beach restoration, and what share should be paid locally. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have been moving toward cuts in such federal spending, Marlowe indicated.

Studies like Lent's demonstrate that beach preservation has more than local benefits, and is nationally significant at Waikiki and Miami, he said.

The study will help Hawai'i's congressional delegation get the federal dollars needed to restore the beach, he said.

"It will also be even more useful to help convince state legislators to provide the matching funds required to restore the beach."

The Corps of Engineers has allocated $350,000 this year for a study of the environmental impact of Waikiki beach restoration. An appropriation of $500,000 is being sought in the Legislature to pay the state's share of such a study, said State Coastal Lands Program manager Sam Lemmo.

It may cost $20 million in federal and state money eventually to restore the beach, through sand nourishment and erosion control structures, Lemmo said.

Lent's study of Delaware said that state stood to lose 268,500 visitors, $30 million in tourism revenue, $43 million in property values and 625 jobs over five years because of shrinking beaches.

The study concluded that Delaware could avoid those losses by spending $6.4 million in five years to nourish the beach areas by importing sand.

The corps, working with a $100,000 federal appropriation obtained with support from Hawai'i and its congressional delegation, hired Lent to come to Hawai'i and crunch visitor data and beach facts in computer models.

She is looking at the entire shoreline, from Diamond Head to the Ala Wai Canal.

In her Waikiki study, Lent said yesterday, she hopes to quantify for the first time the value of Waikiki's international visitors to the U.S. economy.

Waikiki and Miami beaches attract so many international visitors that the benefits of saving them clearly go beyond the local or regional, she said. Miami and other East Coast beaches have received millions of dollars in federal assistance for their protection, but Waikiki has had little federal protection for decades, she said.

Lent had never seen Waikiki before arriving a week ago. She said she was surprised to see how small the famous beach is compared with some of the sweeping beaches of the Eastern seaboard.

Parts of the beach clearly are filled to the limit with visitors at times, she said, so the costs of losing beach areas could be critical. She said the study should include visitor surveys to determine whether tourists are disappointed at crowded conditions and decide to seek other destinations as a result.

Waikiki originally was wetland; the beach was essentially man-made using massive importation of sand early in the last century. Several sections of shoreline have no sand at all. In other areas the sandy beach is completely covered at high tide.

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.