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public right of way to the beach sign

Public Access Rights

Q: What are the rights of the public to access Hawaiʻi’s beaches?

A: The public has a right of access along the beaches and shorelines in the State situated below the “upper reaches of the wash of the waves.” (HRS §§ 115-4, 115-5, Revised 2010).

QHow should the public access beaches and shorelines that are blocked by houses?

A: If private homeowners are obstructing existing public rights-of-way to the shoreline, HRS § 115-9 provides a remedy and up to a $2000 penalty for that kind of situation.  Contact your County Planning Department for enforcement.

Q: What are the various public shoreline access authorities in Hawai’i?

A:  Generally, the Counties have the primary authority and duty to develop and maintain public access to and along the shorelines. (HRS §§ 46-6.5, 115-5 & 115-7)

A:  The State’s primary role in the shoreline area is to preserve and protect coastal resources within the conservation district and support public access along and below the shoreline. (HRS Chap. 205A)

A:  In limited circumstances, the State, under its Na Ala Hele Program, is responsible for management and maintenance of public rights-of-way that are part of the Na Ala Hele trail system of “ancient trails” that are identified and established public trails with documented historical use and significance. Unlike other public rights-of-way that may exist by virtue of an easement, the Na Ala Hele trails are owned by the State and may lead to and from the shoreline and also provide lateral access along shorelines. (HRS § 264-1)

A:  An inventory of public rights-of-way should be available at the respective County Planning office and a list of Na Ala Hele trails are available at DLNR’s Na Ala Hele Division.

  • §46-6.5 Public access.   (a) Each county shall adopt ordinances which shall require a subdivider or developer, as a condition precedent to final approval of a subdivision, in cases where public access is not already provided, to dedicate land for public access by right-of-way or easement for pedestrian travel from a public highway or public streets to the land below the high-water mark on any coastal shoreline, and to dedicate land for public access by right-of-way from a public highway to areas in the mountains where there are existing facilities for hiking, hunting, fruit-picking, ti-leaf sliding, and other recreational purposes, and where there are existing mountain trails.

Q: How are public access rights generally enforced?

A: Members of the public with questions about public beach access should seek the assistance of the appropriate County agency tasked with that responsibility (typically the County Planning Departments).  Concerns regarding lateral shoreline access and encroaching vegetation should be directed to the Department of Land and Natural Resources(DLNR) specifically the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL).

Q: What are the criteria for public rights-of-way?

A:  HRS § 115-3 Criteria for public rights-of-way.  A distance at reasonable intervals taking into consideration the topography and physical characteristics of the land the public is desirous of reaching is established as the maximum between public rights-of-way for the purposes of this chapter. [L 1974, c 244, §3]

Q: What are county policies regarding public access?

A: In addition to state statutes, all counties have ordinances related to public access and each county has the primary responsibility to develop and maintain public access to and along the shoreline (HRS § 46-6.5, 115-5 & 115-7).

  • Kauai – Kauai’s County Planning Commission requires a standard access width of 10 ft minimum.  Public access intervals vary depending on the district zoning but should not be greater than 1500 ft (Kauai County code 1987, Ch 9 Article S Section 9-2.9)
  • Hawaiʻi –  Hawaiʻi County’s Department of Planning also has a minimum width of 10 ft and access intervals that vary on zoning but range between 800-2500 ft. (Hawaii County Code 34-2, 34-4).
  • Oahu -The City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting in consultation with the Department of Parks and Recreation determine the location and alignment of new public accesses.  Standard width is 12 ft with a interval of ¼ mile in urban areas and ½ mile in rural areas (Revised Ordinances of Honolulu Ch. 22 sec. 22-6.4)
  • Maui -Maui’s subdivision ordinance requires public access intervals of not greater than 1500 ft and a minimum width of 15 ft.

A:  Public Beach transit corridor defined. –§115-5 (a) The right of transit shall exist seaward of the shoreline and this area shall be defined as a beach transit corridor. For purposes of this section, “shoreline” shall have the same meaning as in section 205A-1.

Q: Does the right of access to the shoreline include the right of transit along the shorelines?

A:  Yes. HRS § “115- Duty to maintain access within beach transit corridors. (a) The Department of Land and Natural Resources shall maintain access within beach transit corridors under this chapter and chapter 183C, by requiring private property owners to ensure that beach transit corridors abutting their lands shall be kept passable and free from the landowner’s human-induced, enhanced, or un-maintained vegetation that interferes or encroaches in the beach transit corridors.

§115-4 Right of transit along shorelines. The right of access to Hawaiʻi’s shorelines includes the right of transit along the shorelines. [L 1974, c 244, §4; am L 1991, c 37, §2]



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