WAIPA — The message along Kuhio Highway was to slow down on Wednesday, as North Shore residents gathered with signs at the old road-closure booth in Waipa.
And every car that passed by the booth — known to residents as the “regulation station’”— heard that message loud and clear.
That’s because they were individually stopped by Ka‘iulani Mahuka and Nancy Chandler, along with a handful of others who had been manning the station since about 6 a.m.
Most drivers stopped when Mahuka stepped in front of the vehicle, hands raised, asking them to roll down their window for a chat. Some tried to go around or speed through the collection of people at the station.
Those drivers got scoldings and chased down the street with shouts of “slow down!”
Lines built up as each car received the same question: “Do you have a parking pass?”
“In any other universe, we aunties would be out at the beach, talking story,” Mahuka said early Wednesday. “But the aunties are not allowed that. We’re out here directing traffic.”
Sign-waving started Tuesday in response to the Monday opening of Kuhio Highway past Waipa — the section that’s been closed for repairs since the April 2018 flood.
Haena and Napali Coast state parks have opened, the Kalalau Trail is open for hiking, and the parking lot is finished.
But both state workers and local residents are still working out the kinks of adjusting to more people again driving through the area, off limits to the general public for more than a year.
“It’s not ready,” said Moku Chandler, another sign-holder at the station on Wednesday. “There’s still construction.”
Part of that construction is on the bridge just past Waipa, where traffic periodically backed up past the station as work continued.
As they talked with every driver who would listen, the group warned that the North Shore isn’t ready for visitors, that there isn’t any parking available if you don’t have a pass, and about speeding in the area.
“Two of the dogs in our community were killed in the road yesterday (by fast drivers),” Mahuka said. “We’re just telling everyone to slow down, and if you don’t have a pass, you might as well just turn around.”
And turn around they did, by the dozens, especially as noon approached and the line of traffic started to back up around the corner.
Tuesday, police were on hand to regulate the protesting and sign-holding activity. No one was arrested, though a photo of Nancy Chandler with her foot on the front bumper of a white Jeep got national attention.
“That guy didn’t stop, so ‘ey, you going in, you taking me with you,” Chandler said of the incident. “He was being rude.”
“His wife got it, he didn’t,” Mahuka added. “She was embarrassed.”
Wednesday morning, officers cruised through the sign-holders with friendly acknowledgements from inside their vehicles, and were otherwise nowhere to be seen for much of the day.
Mahuka said Kauai Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck is considering training residents to write tickets as a way to help enforce rules in the area. Raybuck confirmed that on Wednesday.
“We are looking into the possibility of training citizens to assist with parking violations. In order to do that, we will need to look further into the legal process of authorizing citizens to enforce parking laws, along with the development of forming and implementing a training and oversight program for such an initiative,” Raybuck said.
Moku Chandler pointed out the goal isn’t to shut down the road or to block visitor traffic. He suggests opening the road to locals only until the ongoing construction on the bridges is complete.
“We have to find a balance,” said Brandi Miller. “Find a way to honor everyone who has the right to be here.”
The sign-waving and traffic-stopping isn’t going to end anytime soon, according to Makuha and the rest of the group that was at Waipa on Wednesday. They’re currently working through ideas including setting up closer to Haena.
Joy Zakarian of San Diego said she was shaken after an encounter with the protesters.
When they drove up Tuesday morning for a kayaking trip from Kee to Kalalau two years in the planning, they came to a car “sort of blocking the road” on Kuhio Highway beyond Hanalei. She said it wasn’t just some people with signs asking her van of kayakers to slow down, but they were yelling, “tourists, go home,” and shaking fists at them.
“They told us to get out of here,” Zakarian said.
After the driver talked to the group, they continued on, but shortly afterward, the driver apparently changed his mind. He stopped, turned around and said the kayaking excursion was canceled.
Zakarian was dismayed. She said at 57, she didn’t know if she would get another chance to go to Kalalau Beach, a place she had been dreaming about.
She said she and her boyfriend thought they did what was right in waiting for Kuhio Highway and Haena State Park to reopen, acquiring a camping permit, paying for a kayaking trip and going through the proper channels.
The protesters, she said, “seem to think we’re here to ruin the land, and we’re not.”
“I’m totally broken-hearted,” she said. “To have them do that to us, that was devastating. I couldn’t believe it. It was horrible, what happened.”
Zakarian lived on Kauai for a few years in the mid-’80s and loved it. She said people have changed.
“Everyone was nice back then,” she said.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Buley, TGI editor-in-chief, contributed to this report.