Mayor touts joint Waipio effort
Hundreds braved a rainy Wednesday night to attend a meeting at Honokaa Gym about Waipio Valley Road with Mayor Mitch Roth, Public Works Director Steve Pause and Heather Kimball, District 1 councilwoman.
Roth acknowledged “unhappiness” with the situation and said he’ll “take some of the responsibility, because I had to make the tough decision, and we did make the decisions.”
“The community decided that’s not right,” Roth said. “… That road is kind of like a driveway going down to their property.”
The mayor also acknowledged the ocean-users who aren’t valley residents who “believe they have right of entry.”
The steep, narrow, winding road to the valley was closed on Feb. 25 via an emergency order by Roth to all but residents and valley farmers, citing dangerous conditions such as possible rockfalls.
That prompted a lawsuit against Roth and the county by a group called Malama I Ke Kai ‘O Waipio, MaKa for short, alleging their access to the valley’s black sand beach was being unlawfully denied. A federal lawsuit also was filed, and later dropped, by tour companies wanting access to the valley.
After a mediated settlement between MaKa and the county, Roth issued a second emergency order last month opening the road to Hawaii County residents, Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and licensed tour operators.
That led to a group called Protect Waipio Valley, consisting mostly of valley residents, to form a “kupuna checkpoint” at the valley rim, where they stop vehicles and attempt to dissuade those who aren’t residents of the valley or valley farmers from going there.
The one issue where both sides are in agreement is in not wanting tourists in the valley. According to Roth, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Island Visitor’s Bureau do not tout the valley as a tourist destination, and he remains optimistic about the valley’s future.
Pause said engineers are “looking at about four to six months of work to come up with a conceptual design” to improve the road and make it safer.
“It could take a couple of years to get this road back to where it needs to be,” he said.
Pause said the county currently has $6 million budgeted for the road. He acknowledged it isn’t enough and said officials will seek more funding in the future.
Nellie Thomas Angelo, an 81-year-old valley resident, handed Roth a petition Wednesday with more that 4,400 signatures and said, “We hope that when you read this, you know and understand where we are coming from.”
“We just want the road to be safe for everybody and stop the tourists from going down there … ,” she said.
Calvin Namau‘u said he isn’t a resident but works as a taro farmer and supports “both sides.”
“All over, the ‘aina is being sold out. There’s no more ‘aina for keikis to go fishing anymore, like we did when we were growing up … ,” he said. “… And I know these people are shutting down Waipio for the wrong purposes. But clearly, Waipio is a place that brings people together. And without our hands working together to save Waipio, Waipio can never be saved.”
Roth said the long-term answer is going to have to be a collaborative effort.
“The community really should be deciding, and we should be listening on what this looks like, once this road is fixed. How are we going to deal with it?” he said.
Pat Lactaoen said a “more immediate plan is needed” than what’s been presented by the county.
“You guys supposed to know, you’re supposed to have (documentation) already, an immediate plan,” he said, “How you going to know what’s going to happen in the future if you no more one blueprint? My uncle, Jeremiah Kaholoaa said, ‘If you no more one blueprint to follow, what makes you think when the day comes, you’re going to know exactly what for do? You going to ask us?”
According to Lanakila Mangauil, “The burden is on us.”
“Are we following through as a community?” he asked. “The county is bound. They can only do so much.
“We have to come up with a management plan.”
Kimball said she sees “more gates going up where they don’t belong.”
“We have to be careful, because we don’t want to make decisions here that might affect access in other areas. This is one of the things we have in Hawaii that is super important that isn’t true everywhere. There are places where beaches, the ocean, is private.
“We never want to see that in Hawaii.”
Despite the divisions, Roth said he’s “very optimistic.”
“What I’m hearing is, this room is closer together than we’re father apart. If you listening to what everybody is saying, the respect that everybody’s giving each other here, I feel really, really optimistic that together, we can come up with some really good paths forward.”
Another community meeting in Honokaa to discuss the road is scheduled for Oct. 26. According to Pause, engineers for consultant Hart Crowser should be there to discuss plans for the road.
According to a source, Roth signed the settlement agreement on Friday. The state Judiciary website still shows a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 28 before Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota in the case, which is the postponement of a hearing orginally scheduled for Oct. 5.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.