HANALEI — The governor on Tuesday declared the District of Hanalei a disaster area.
“The sole purpose of this emergency proclamation is to protect the health, welfare, property and living conditions of residents and visitors in Haena and Wainiha, said Gov. David Ige. “We must do everything we can to prevent another landslide that could jeopardize the people of Kauai.”
That means reinforcing slopes where landslides have and could occur.
“While we do not anticipate an imminent threat of landslides, the emergency proclamation will help the slope stabilization work in order to help prevent future natural disasters that could impact the people of Kauai,” said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for Hawaii Department of Transportation.
The emergency proclamation helps expedite the process for the contract to be executed within 60 days using existing appropriations to fund the project, he said, and HDOT will alert the public when a schedule and lane closure impacts are finalized.
North Shore residents are thankful the governor is funneling money from the state general fund straight toward “expeditious and efficient relief of hardship created by heavy rains.”
“It’s precarious looking up at where the slide was (in Kalihiwai),” said John Oszust, Princeville resident who was driving to the North Shore from Poipu on Tuesday afternoon.
He continued: “There are roots and tall trees looming over the road, so it looks like it could use some work to me, but I’m not a geologist or anything.”
The first of four landslides occurred on Feb. 23 on Kuhio Highway between Lumahai and Wainiha and as Hawaii Department of Transportation cleaned up, a second, larger rockslide occurred. The road was closed for two days while crews cleared the debris.
On March 15, a landslide occurred in the same general location — at mile marker 5 in Wainiha and then the next day, the fourth landslide in three weeks closed Kuhio Highway just south of Kalihiwai Bridge.
“I was probably the eighth car on the scene and even then traffic was backed up,” Oszust said. “I know people were sitting there for hours.”
Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, Hanalei resident, said landslides are old shoe for North Shore residents, but are a major inconvenience and were the trigger for the Hanalei community’s disaster resilience plan, which desperately needs updating.
“Part of that planning was precipitated a few years ago when we had five distinct areas isolated from one another because of landslides,” she said. “We get them periodically, Kauai is a sloughing volcanic rock.”
Ige’s proclamation and the resulting money will help address some of the ramifications of landslides and the natural processes themselves, she said.
“It’s encouraging the governor has declared this emergency,” Ka’aumoana said. “This is serious for us up here. To have the governor recognize this as a serious enough threat to expedite stabilization of some areas is welcome and a very good thing.”
This is an opportunity for the state to get on board with Hanalei’s community disaster resilience plan as well, she said, since it needs to be updated.
“It’s best to do these things in a planned, strategic way and not wait for the crisis where it’s hard to manage everything,” Ka’aumoana said. “Part of being prepared is working with the community to update our plan and we’re ready to work with the governor at any time.”
While most North Shore veteran residents have their cupboards stocked with emergency food and other supplies, it’s not the same story for tourists who are either driving through or staying at vacation rentals.
Mehana Vaughan, Kilauea resident who grew up in Kalihiwai, said her friends brought a group of 54 Hawaiian charter school students from off-island to Kauai at the same time as the March 16 Kalihiwai landslide.
“They were trapped late at night on the Kilauea side of Kalihiwai Bridge by the landslide and could not reach Camp Naue where they were supposed to stay,” she said.
Because the visitors were already connected to Punana Leo o Kauai and island families, and coming to Kauai to contribute to the island, Vaughan said locals helped them out.
“We were able to house them. This was possible because these visitors came as a part of our community, to contribute not simply consume,” she said. “We cannot care for thousands of stranded tourists in the same way.”
Stranded tourists are a problem north of the Hanalei Bridge as well when Kuhio Highway closes, Ka’aumoana said, because they’re not prepared.
“In recent years we’ve had such an expanded presence of tourists staying in these areas that it becomes hazardous. They don’t have food or anything they need to stay any long period of time, and it’s an inconvenience to everyone, including them,” she said.
The bottom line for folks living on the North Shore is that landslides will happen.
“Where people used to travel by trail or horse, we have dug roads into hillsides that get saturated with water in heavy rains on the oldest and most eroding Hawaiian Island,” Vaughan said.
While funding is appreciated, she said no amount of technical fixes or stabilization will prevent road closures on the North Shore.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said he was eager to learn more about the state’s plan to address the recent landslides in the Hanalei District.
“The slope stabilization work is necessary to avoid future safety risks to our residents and visitors,” he said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with the state to understand the scope and timeline of work so that we can help to mitigate the disruption and inconvenience to our Hanalei and Ha’ena communities as best we are able.”