WAINIHA — The future of Wainiha and Haena was on the table at Opakapaka Grill and Bar Wednesday night.
The two communities have been isolated for at least six months since the April flood washed out sections of Kuhio Highway. They have been accessible through a single-lane convoy system to residents of the area only.
About 75 people gathered to talk about preparing and planning for what comes after access to the area reopens to the public some time in 2019. Plans and ideas were made to work along with the planned construction associated with the updating of the Haena State Park Master Plan as well.
“We’re a strong, united community, and we want this to be a beacon, a treasured area, and create the new normal that everyone on island could enjoy,” said Joel Guy, vice president of the Hanalei Haena Community Association, which hosted the meeting.
Like small committees, residents sat in groups around tables, expressing ideas and writing them on paper. Some residents walked from table to table, listening in and dropping in to give input. Shuttles, parking, communication, roads and policies were discussed.
While many suggestions were generated, there were common concerns voiced and solutions proposed.
A major concern is that people want to be sure road and bridge repairs are completed by the time Kuhio Highway is reopened.
A transition period of at least six months or more was a key goal of the group.
During this time, island residents would be welcomed into Wainiha and Haena, while tourists could visit only via shuttle. The convoy system would end, but it was suggested that road repairs could continue, especially since this method would help reduce traffic. This process would need to be managed by someone at a checkpoint.
“Because of fragile infrastructure, we want a limited time period (when all island residents can come to Wainiha and Haena),” Guy said.
He said this would help to ensure the safety of non-residents as well. Fewer vehicles and fewer visitors would allow for people in the area to “heal” more easily, he added.
People also agreed that slowing vehicle overflow for a short period of time would make it easier for people to continue to recover from the flood, and give workers more room to finish road repairs.
All island residents could pass through to the area, but would need to show placards for access.
On the topic of the convoy, one woman said, “We love it and we hate it.”
All agreed they would like to see a time around 10 a.m. added to the schedule when people can leave and enter the area.
On the flip side, residents that otherwise would be forced to be stuck waiting on the other side (outside Wainiha and Haena) could get back home earlier. Many individuals sometimes have to wait hours to get home through the convoy.
It was also agreed that after the road is reopened, no-parking zones would prevent an overflow of traffic into the community.
Laura Richards, general manager of Hanalei Colony Resort, was at the communications table, and relayed some themes, including describing the Wainiha and Haena area as a “national treasure,” and emphasizing the importance of perpetuating cultural knowledge.
Providing information in a brochure or a video on a flight to the island about the area’s history and what has happened in Haena and Wainiha as a result of the April flood was one suggestion.
Information about how to be respectful of Hawaiian culture and the environment while visiting Haena and Wainiha was considered a must.
“I think a major goal was to steer toward inclusiveness toward the whole island. We’re not the only ones dealing with an unbalanced (situation) between residents and non-residents. (We’re asking) how do we create the new normal?” Guy added.
Monique Rowan is a Kauai native and Wainiha resident who writes occasionally for The Garden Island.