The Friday hearing at which the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources gave the penultimate approval to the new Haena State Master Plan started more than a little ragged around the edges, though a certain amount of that was for political show.
But after more than an hour of, at times, contentious and impassioned testimony and debate, the board voted 7-0 to move forward with the plan and put the project (at one time estimated at require 10 to 15 years to complete into a time warp with the sudden presence of $100 million in state emergency repair funds.
Kauai’s member of the BLNR, Thomas Oi, put it quite succinctly: “This is our only near-term chance to get this funding.”
But Oi cautioned against overconfidence because he knows competition for these funds will be intense. “Every Tom, Dick and Harry will be fighting for funds,” Oi said.
One of the North Shore’s most credible voices, Chipper Wichman, who heads the National Tropical Botanical Garden, easily won the award the most eloquent argument when he told the board members: “This flood has been Mother Earth’s way of crying out to us. The places we love are being loved to death.”
What this means is that the actual work of stopping talking about rejuvenating Haena Park should now be in a fast-track position. There is some minor repair construction already. The park entry that uses the final mile or two of Kuhio Highway for parking cannot be used for parking any longer.
The story gave engineers a 100-to-nothing score in their skilled game of predicting the hillside would devolve into a major rockslides. It did. Posts will have to be driving into the steep incline and covered with mesh make it safe to even walk the area, much less park cars there.
The regular parking lot, which had just been resurfaced before the storm (but was utterly destroyed by the rains) should be reconstructed with concrete walls around the perimeter to keep the gravel parking surface from blowing away. Light boardwalk structures that would restrict the walking pathways would need to be built. A visitor reception structure of some kind needs to be created.
“No parking/tow-away” signage needs to be erected along the final two miles of Kuhio Highway and a site chosen to store cars that would be towed. Rep. Nadine Nakamura took one of the most definitive steps to achieve this by getting the Legislature to enact an increase in parking ticket fees from $35 to $235 to make clear to wealthy visitors that you can’t park in a no-parking zone with impunity.
There would have to be an impound lot, but so far the tracts considered have been on conservation land and would need a special bureaucratic tweak. A small monkey wrench was thrown into that plan recently when the Kauai Police Department noted that the bill failed to provide a process for contesting disputed tickets. They have a point. That technical issue is being worked on.
Then, there’s the shuttle system everyone assumes will smoothly control the flow of tourists into the park — probably from remote sites in Kilauea and Princeville. Kauai County would have to take the lead on this and the county has recently made two abortive attempts to create the shuttle. Both failed for financial reasons.
No one pretends that the park operating system will be put into place all at once and perfectly. Time and again Dave Carpenter, Department of Land and Natural Resources staff member, and board members returned to the phrase “adaptive management,” which actually means: No one knows how in the hell this is actually going to work, so everyone will have to be ready to spot flaws quickly as they develop and rush to correct them.
Special concerns were expressed that in the rush to find way to handle the horde of tourists, that keeping the park available to local people with minimal restrictions must track what has historically been the case. Very special local access in early mornings to permit fishing and in late afternoon and evening to enjoy the sunset and undertake cultural activities are two of the most obvious categories.
“The idea is to be very flexible,” said Carpenter.
So of all the challenges to getting the recovery of Haena Beach State Park underway, it’s finding money and an entity to operate the shuttle. The task might be easier if the state issued a request for a proposal from and expedition service provider who would everyone who intends to hike Kalalau Trail separately, in vehicles large enough to fit campers and all of their equipment. Then the service would pick the hikers up at the other end. The service would be in charge of ensuring the campers have permits and enforcing trail maintenance rules.
Serious distance hikers and travelers would recognize — and willingly pay for — this kind off expedition provider that would be separate from the van system carrying the day trippers.
Then there’s the pesky last mile or so of Kuhio Highway. The state Department of Transportation owns it and the department is prohibited from placing gates to form a park entrance across state highway. So DOT would have to convey that part of the road to DLNR — and even though both agencies are open to this deal, exchanges like this don’t happen at lightning speed.
Credible sources with DOT say that agency is so eager to free itself from this remote section of roadway that they’d even pave it before it’s turned over to DLNR. Someone needs to hold DOT to that part of the deal. But since DOT is also doing the critical repairs on the highway out of another pot of money that is nearly entirely federal and is not charged against the state $100 million emergency response fund, DOT should pin the dangerous hillside at the very end of the road and secure it with mesh — as has been done in several other location between Hanalei and Ke‘e.
Once the section of highway has undergone hillside stabilization and resurfacing, it should go to DLNR, which could use it for emergency vehicle access, disabled parking and storage of buses if any tour services want to start offering packages in addition to the public shuttle.
Construction at the parking lot would require a visitor reception building, restroom facilities, which would require very sophisticated sewage treatment technology to avoid poisoning ground water that irrigates nearby taro patches.
The DLNR should get every cent of that $3 million to $5 million rumored to be the amount it seeks from the $100 million emergency fund. However, that money can’t be used to set up the shuttle system and put it into operation. But there is a rich vein that should be tapped to defray the entire cost (the operating cost minus actual fare revenues), and that entity is the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The authority already spends an obscene amount of money promoting more travel to Kauai than the island can handle. HTA could divert a large part of its $83 million annual promotion budget and issue an RFP for a contractor to operate the shuttle system, parking and many administrative functions at the parks.
DLNR fared well in this year’s budget, acquiring funds for 10 new positions — three of which are ticketed for Haena State Park. That would provide a minimal uniformed presence. Volunteers could be mobilized to such things as checking that every person arriving at the Kalalau Trail had an entry ticket. Volunteer guides and docents could enrich the park experience in a host of other ways.
Finally, the HTA and the county could collaborate — STARTING TOMORROW— to create an inspired public education campaign, all the way down to distributing fliers at the airport describing the access situation to the North Shore’s most treasured visitor destinations.
Road signage would give visitors miles of warning of the conditions in existence to actually drive to Ke‘e. There would be radio spots, fliers handed out in stores and restaurants and volunteer-staffed information booths — at least in Hanalei. Hotel concierges and condominium managers could play important roles.
Obviously, this can’t all happen at once. That’s the silver lining provided by the storm. But it does say there is no time to waste. This project has to get started now, simultaneous with the major repairs on Kuhio Highway.
If it doesn’t happen that way, the road will reopen and we’ll plunge right back into the gridlock that had ruined the Haena State Park system experience for tens of thousands of people, but — far more significantly — inflicted near fatal damage to the land, which needs time to recover and better care once it does.
The literally bottom line of this story is: This is an opportunity that will never come to us again to fix a situation that is breaking many of our hearts. We have to do it, and do it right, and do it now.
Allan Parachini lives in Kilauea and writes occasionally for The Garden Island.