HAENA — These days, the topic of reopening the road leading from Hanalei to Wainiha, the section of Kuhio Highway from Waikoko to Wainiha, which has been under construction since the April 2018 floods, can be a delicate one.
Recovery has been the main focus of the residents impacted by the flooding, which resulted in multiple landslides, damaged homes, and has essentially isolated local residents from the rest of the island for the past year.
Preparing for reopening of the road and what should be done after it happens were topics of discussion Wednesday night at Opakapaka Grill and Bar, in Haena, during the Hanalei Haena Community Association meeting. Vice president of HHCA, Joel Guy, hosted the meeting.
Though some are ready to move forward and let the public and traffic back in, for others opening the road by the end of April is nothing short of alarming. Some refer to the situation as “opening the flood gates.”
Nancy Chandler, whose family has been living in the small, North Shore community for many generations, is against the plans to open the road by the set date for safety reasons. “It’s unsafe. Don’t rush it, just because people want to see it.”
When it comes to the actual roads in Wainiha and Haena, Chandler says there’s a lot of road work to be done. Past the construction zone between the Waikoko and Wainiha checkpoints, which is traveled through via the convoy system, Chandler says: “The size of the roads are too narrow, too muddy and they’re eroding away. They’re not maintaining the roads here. It’s the same as usual. They shouldn’t be shoving that date down our throats. The roads won’t be ready.”
Michael Ventura said thoughtful and careful leadership is crucial; to look at the whole picture to properly address all of Kauai’s needs and the North Shore’s properly. A lack of careful planning, Ventura explains, has resulted in what he believes is a poor decision to reopen the road by the end of next month, which he says is too soon.
“We need discipline. They don’t think deeply,” he said.
Ventura added, “We’re too attached to materialism. We have to focus on each issue one at a time.” Things that need to be focused on include, Ventura says, “the wellbeing of the planet, the community, the roads.” All should be made a priority.
One woman suggested that all visitors should be required to take the shuttle to visit the area, with no tourist cars allowed. A majority of the 50 people who attended in the room agreed, clapped and cheered. Island residents would be able to drive in and out, but it was also suggested that residents be encouraged to take the shuttle as well.
Guy added that the shuttle would be beneficial to residents needing to go to work and do other activities, and would likely be a beneficial change for the community even if it was a bit of an adjustment for other people. “That’s a good idea. And, we need to change our behavior pattern to make that happen,” he said.
As far as the shuttle is concerned, Guy said that it is “ready to move forward,” and that grant money has been obtained through the emergency relief fund for the effort.
Guy, who is also part of the nonprofit The Hanalei Initiative, which with county support has been organizing and preparing to get the shuttle underway by the end of next month. They also are currently in the process of searching for shuttle operators.
The state Department of Transportation has not yet reached a final decision regarding implementation of the shuttle system, and currently does not know if the shuttle will be operating by the time the road reopens. The shuttle is expected to begin with a limited route by this summer.
Repairs to the section of highway from Waikoko to Wainiha, as well as drainage improvements at Lumahai, will be complete upon reopening of the road. Projects to be completed after the reopening, according to DOT, include the completion of the Waioli, Waipa and Waikoko bridges, as well as the Limahuli and Manoa crossings.
The DOT plans to rebuild the crossings to be similar to their original designs previous to the flood, and is currently waiting for approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Another major project important to a majority of community members is, according to HHCA, preferably before reopening, the highway past Wainiha and beyond must be paved. Repaving is not currently part of the construction schedule.
There is also a desire by residents to have a temporary period of time where the Haena and Wainiha will remain accessible to local residents only after roadwork is completed. This would give residents additional time to adapt to reintroducing visitors and other residents into the area and reduce traffic temporarily.
No parking signs have not been ordered by DOT, and people at the gathering expressed that as a necessity in order to reduce and mitigate traffic.
There have been suggestions by community members in the past to help reduce traffic and parking congestion via use of tow-away zones along the highway, with a goal to provide safe passage for two-lane traffic including bicyclists, pedestrians and emergency responders.
HHCA welcomed the public to participate in a survey completed Thursday. The goal of the survey is to serve as a tool to gather input from local residents regarding reopening of the road and other factors affecting the well-being of the community. At least 100 people participated in the survey online.
Monique Rowan is a lifelong North Shore resident who writes periodically for The Garden Island.