Rob Parsons

Baldwin Beach

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
April 19, 2007

Body surfing, boogie boarding and coastal erosion. Family picnics, devastating tsunamis and climate awareness events. Ancient heiaus, limu gathering and sand mining. Proposals for luxury homes and preservation efforts for a regional park. Historical battles and current lawsuits. It's all going on at the North Shore's Baldwin Beach Park, named after Henry Perrine Baldwin, sugar baron, pioneer pineapple planter and son of missionary Dwight Baldwin.

On the morning of Saturday, April 14, close to 150 people gathered at Baldwin Beach for a "climate awareness event," one of nearly 1,400 such events nationwide. Sponsored locally by the Hawai`i PV (photovoltaic) Coalition, organizers hoisted banners calling for Congress to mandate an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. A flyover by Blue Hawaiian's "Eco-Star" helicopter filmed the gathering.

Baldwin Beach was chosen because it represents one of the beaches Maui stands to lose to rising sea levels if the United States doesn't do its part to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, last summer beachgoers were shocked as seasonal erosion undermined nearly two-dozen ironwood trees, tumbling them into the surf.

The Hawai`i PV Coalition is composed of individuals and businesses "focused on moving our State away from its dependency on fossil fuels while moving it towards clean, renewable energy; specifically solar power," according to their press release. "With sunshine in abundance and electric costs rising, solar power makes sense."

Twelve weeks ago, Bill McKibben, author of The End Of Nature, launched the nationwide Step It Up campaign to raise awareness for global warming. He maintained that the urgency of the cause requires a campaign infused with the same passion as the 1960's civil rights movement. His timing may be right on.

"It's gone off like a rocket ship," McKibben said. He chose the week before Earth Day for the awareness events, though "the Earth might need more than one day."

This Sunday, April 22, from 10 a.m. to sunset, an Earth Day event will attract a large crowd to Baldwin Beach for a wide array of musical performances, food booths, speakers and displays on social action and environmental awareness. The event sponsor is Bruce Douglas of Mandala Ethnic Arts in Paia, with co-sponsorship by Sierra Club, GMO Free Maui, Hawai`i Ocean Noise Coalition, Save Makena, Ocean Mammal Institute and a few others.

Douglas, who has sponsored the event for the past two years, is also the owner of Mandala Homes, which successfully petitioned the Board of Variance and Appeals last year to allow the importation of sustainably harvested palm and rubber wood to Maui for use as building materials. He encouraged participation from the Sierra Club-Maui to promote the idea of preserving the undeveloped coastal area as a North Shore Heritage Park.

Lucienne De Naie and Lance Holter of the Sierra Club-Maui conceived of a regional park, celebrating the history of the area and envisioning an undeveloped wilderness shoreline for future generations to enjoy. They'll be at Baldwin Beach on Sunday, with displays and petitions to rally support for protecting the area from urbanization pressure. Just eight years ago, as part of the Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan revision, Alexander & Baldwin asked the County Council to include a proposal to develop 24 to 30 homes on the wooded dunes between the Maui Country Club golf course and the beach. A tidal wave of community support swelled to "Save Baldwin Beach" from the impending coastal development, as well as another 420 homes and nine holes of golf proposed mauka of Hana Highway.

Five thousand citizens signed petitions opposing Spreckelsville development, and Council hearings set a record with 160 testifiers on that agenda item, spanning several meetings and many months. Ultimately, the Council unanimously voted down the makai proposal for two-dozen homes, though the Sprecks mauka vote was a narrower five to four to reject.

Around the same time, citizens began questioning permitting irregularities that were to allow three private residences on the single parcel where the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar (HC&S) Lime Kiln operated for much of the last century. The "Montana Beach" fiasco (named after the daughter of one of the investors) dragged through the media and the courts.

Realizing they had erred, the Planning Department refused to issue a Certificate of Occupancy to the owners of a two-story, elaborately crafted house. After years of legal stalemates, matters were settled, with the County acquiring two of the three lots, while the middle lot remains in limbo. It is noteworthy that the effort of one resident, Christina Hemming, working with Dana and Isaac Hall to untangle the chronicle of events that allowed the pilikia to unfold, is largely the reason that three luxury homes aren't built there today.

Of course, recent skirmishes over development proposals are nothing compared to past battles in the area.

In the 1730's, rival sons of recently deceased Maui King Keakaulike led armies through days of fighting, with great casualties on both sides. Reportedly, the battle ended in a truce, which probably took place at the Papanene heiau, now in ruins at the base of the Pu`u Nene cinder cone, visible rising out of the cane fields across from the "Sprecks 5" subdivision along the Hana Highway.

It's likely that many of the deceased warriors were buried in the coastal dunes. A search of the microfilm archives at the Kahului Public Library turned up an April 1973 Maui News

article, complete with photo of three visitors posing on the beach with a complete, just-unearthed skeleton. The paper's next edition-which cost a dime back then-printed letters chastising the newspaper for their bad taste in disrespecting the Hawaiian remains.

One time "Sugar King" Claus Spreckels, for which the community is named, was a chief competitor of the Alexander and Baldwin family plantations. When the present Pu`unene Mill was being built a century ago, it was often referred to as the "Spreckelsville Mill." But at the laying of the cornerstone, plantation manager H.P. Baldwin announced the mill would be called Pu`unene, after the nearby cinder cone. The plantation Spreckels assembled is now essentially the 37,000 acres in production by HC&S.

Maui Agriculture Co., run by Alexander and Baldwin, constructed the Paia Lime Kiln in 1907. Over much of the next seven decades, sand and coral were excavated from the beach to manufacture hydrated lime for plantation uses, build roads and airstrips and also produce cement during wartime. Railroad tracks and a roadway ran through the area. Portions of the old asphalt roadbed are sometimes visible on the beach today.

The lime kiln withstood the April 1, 1946 tsunami that badly damaged dozens of structures in the Spreckelsville and Paia beach areas. Also destroyed was a USO recreation hall built on the dunes during World War II.

Erosion was a concern even back then. In 1954, geologist Doak Cox, contracted by the Hawai`i Sugar Planters Association, issued a report titled, "The Spreckelsville Beach Problem." HC&S commissioned the study in hopes of increasing the output of the Lime Kiln. The company wondered how much sand they could remove from the beaches without adversely affecting them.

Cox, euologized as a "grand champion of the environment" at his passing in 2003 at age 86, obliged HC&S's request. He quantified historic amounts of sand removed, noted beach rock marking former shorelines (such as at "Baby Beach") and finally recommended ceasing sand removal from "industrial supply beach" at Spreckelsville and "lime kiln supply beach" at Kapuka`ulua-the rarely spoken proper place name. Nevertheless, HC&S ignored Cox's recommendations. In fact, they continued to operate the lime kiln for the next 25 years.

Dramatic shoreline erosion last July and August forced the closure of Baldwin Beach Park. While many wondered if this was indeed a visible affect of global warming, multiple reasons were involved.

University of Hawai`i Sea Grant coastal geologist Zoe Norcross-Nu`u noted that the previous winter was the second calmest in the past 25 years. Normally, the large waves generated from winter storms actually replenish sand lost during the summer from easterly winds and currents. Then there was the anomalous mesoscale eddy, or bulge in the sea level over a 100-square-kilometer area north of the islands last summer, which was detected through satellite imagery.

Finally, the area of most severe erosion was just beyond the boulder revetment that once protected the lime kiln, but was left in place when it shut down. Seawalls and revetments may "fix" the shoreline, but only at the expense of adjacent beach systems.

A week ago, Holter, who is also the Maui Democratic Party Chair, invited me to meet with him and U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono (D, Hawai`i), to discuss the creation of a Patsy Mink North Shore Heritage Park, honoring the late congresswoman who was born in Paia. Two years earlier, we had walked the shoreline with Anne Stewart, executive aide to former Representative Ed Case. He had introduced a bill to study federal preservation of the coastal region back in 2004, which Hirono said she'll reintroduce.

With the success of the Maui Coastal Land Trust, and a dedicated county fund tapping one percent of property tax revenues for open space land acquisition, there is hope that future generations may also get to enjoy the unabashed beauty of the wilderness area stretching from Paia to Spreckelsville.