HANALEI — The state’s spotlight has swung toward Hanalei because of recent landslides, but locals say it’s the streets, not the slopes, with the major problem.
“The bridge and the traffic, those are the real issues up here,” said Gisele Gardner, owner of The Bikini Room in Hanalei.
She continued: “Yes, the landslides are a problem, but the bridge, it would help to add a light there.”
Gov. David Ige declared a state of emergency for Hanalei District on Tuesday in order to free up money for slope stabilization on the North Shore after four landslides occurred between Feb. 23 and March 16.
But some business owners in Hanalei said Wednesday that while landslides are an immediate concern, road closures and heavy traffic have a greater impact on the community.
“It’s great that he did that (declared a state of emergency),” Gardner said. “Maybe that will bring attention to us and they’ll fix the potholes in the road and do something about traffic and the bridge.”
Geoff Culverhouse of the Ching Young Village said his biggest concern is traffic congestion due to the Hanalei Bridge, as well.
“I understand a lot of people don’t want to get rid of the bridge, it’s historic, but they should put another bridge in next to it and have two one-lane bridges there,” Culverhouse said.
When Kuhio Highway closes, whether it be due to flooding, landslides or other causes, he says many of the shops in the Ching Young Village shutter their doors, and if the road closes overnight many of the shop owners in Hanalei simply stay in their shops.
“A lot of the employees and shop owners live on the other side of the river, so they don’t come in if the road’s closed,” he said. “When the mountain collapsed, it didn’t affect Ching Young Village like that, because it was past us.”
When the road closed near Hanalei, those shops that do stay open pay a couple of employees to paddle board across the Hanalei River, and one of those essential shops is the grocery store.
“Big Save is the most important, so we always make sure to open that up,” he said.
A day after the Hanalei District was declared a disaster area, shops were still busy. On a sunny Wednesday, tourists were wandering, eating ice cream and browsing at stores. Later in the afternoon, traffic backed up from the Hanalei Bridge into the Hanalei as guests headed back to their rooms.
Emma Hagan of Hanalei Strings said keeping the shop fully staffed over the last few weeks has been a challenge because most of their employees either live in Princeville and Kilauea or in the Haena area.
“It takes a perfect combination, but with road closures at the bridge and a landslide up north, we’ve had to close up before,” she said.
Hawaii Department of Transportation, now that it has the money from the governor’s proclamation, is working on a design and building contract that will determine the details of the slope stabilization project, according to Tim Sakahara, spokesman for DOT.
Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.