DLNR clears popular mauka Wailua dirt road

The clearing of a mile-long section of a dirt road located within state forestry land in mauka Wailua is drawing complaints.

State Department of Land and Natural Resources work crews have cleared trees from along the sides of the road.

State officials said the work cost less than $50,000 and was done for the safety of those using the road.

The work involved the removal of softwood albizzia trees about 50 feet back from both sides of the road to prevent fallen trees from becoming a hazard to motorists and hikers in the future, according to Alvin Kyono, acting Kaua‘i branch manager of DLNR’s forestry and wildlife division.

The work took place in an area near the Wailua Arboretum. Work started just over two months ago and was completed earlier this month.

The dirt road starts where the paved road ends. Visitors and local residents use the road for driving and hiking. The road goes for three miles into an area called Blue Hole, beneath the Wai‘ale‘ale Crater. The area was a featured location in the film Jurassic Park.

An East Kaua‘i man, who asked not to be identified, sent an e-mail to Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i, questioning the work.

“Someone needs to tell me why this expenditure of funds was used for this abuse of our natural resources rather than repair the trails into Kalalau or other, in my opinion, more appropriate DLNR projects,” the man wrote.

He asked for a detailed accounting of the work, which Kyono said he would provide.

State officials told the man that funding for the clearing came from private adventure companies that used the road.

The resident claims the work was done solely to benefit tour companies that use the road, “to make the ride a bit more comfortable, to enhance the profits of the owners of those companies.”

However, the road is used frequently by hikers and others for non-commercial access to the area.

He asked whether DLNR was exempt from permits and environmental impact studies, and was told the agency is exempt, and as result, no environmental study was requested.

The state also said the work was not put out to bid, because the individual projects that made up the work were valued at less than $10,000.

The state received one other complaint.

In defense of the work and explaining why his division was not required to get permits, Kyono said the work only involved maintenance and was done for the safety of people who use the backcountry road.

Trees have fallen down and blocked the road in the past, temporarily stranding motorists, Kyono said.

DLNR officials had initially thought to cut the trees back between 20 to 40 feet, but decided to cut farther back for safety reasons, Kyono said.

“The trees are very brittle, and during heavy winds, branches would fall on vehicles,” Kyoto said. “People were trapped up there with trees falling down.”

The division also opted to cut back more because it had the funding to do the maintenance job now, and such funds are not always available, Kyono said.

A little less than $50,000 was used to cut back the trees, fix the road, keep the roadbed dry and redig a trench along the road to take away stormwater. Most of the heavy work was done with an excavator and a bulldozer, Kyono said.

The work was not intrusive. Parts of the road were closed, but were reopened on the same day when the work was completed.

Kyono said he didn’t think the work will cause erosion, because the area gets sufficient rain and the vegetation will grow back.

Kyono said federal and state funds will very likely be found for routine maintenance of the road in the future, eliminating the need for huge clearncutting of trees by the road.

The cut trees were pushed back on each side of the dirt road, to be covered up when remaining trees begin to grow back, Kyono said.

TGI staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681, Ext. 225 or mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net.

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