WAILUA — Repairs have been ongoing on Loop Road ever since the April 2018 floods wreaked havoc with falling trees and landslides and made it nearly impassable in some places.
It’s gone through a series of on-again, off-again closures, since then, and has a history of periodic closures for repairs. It’s also the main public access to the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve.
And now, in addition to navigating construction and natural blockages along the road, there’s a mound of dirt, mud and rocks that vehicles have to traverse to get past the Keahua Arboretum and out to “Jurassic Gate” and the Blue Hole.
It started as a trench, dug across the road by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Aug. 8, in order to drive home the point that the road is closed. They also stacked boulders, about two feet in height, across the road, blocking it completely.
The Aug. 8 announcement from DLNR announced the roadblock was in place “until further notice” and said though the entire Wailua portion of the forest reserve was and continues to be open for foot traffic, walking through the area isn’t encouraged “due to the hazardous conditions.”
“Loop Road has been closed for months, but our signs continue to get taken down,” said Sheri Mann, Kauai Branch manager of DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “The only way to keep people from going in was to place boulders across the road.”
Mann said since the April 2018 rains, storms have continuously caused flooding and “conditions on Loop Road are worsening.”
DLNR points to two recent incidents as well, saying they closed the road to prevent vehicles from getting washed down river crossings or into dangerous situations.
Kauai County spokespeople confirmed there have been two incidents in the past year that required response on Loop Road.
The most recent occurred on Aug. 4, when Kauai Fire Department received a call that a white Jeep with three adults, a child and a dog were stuck at the crossing. Occupants safely exited the vehicle.
Prior to that incident, KFD responded to another vehicle stuck at the crossing, but occupants exited safely.
Before the boulders were placed across the road, DLNR sent in teams to “flush out” anyone that was in there and tell people near Keahua Bridge that the road would be closed.
Keahua Bridge is a $2.7 million bridge built in 2017, the construction of which was met with resistance by some on Kauai.
Concerns were that the bridge would increase visitor traffic in the area, which already has a reputation of being a difficult drive. General knowledge about Loop Road is that it’s smart to go there with a four-wheel drive.
The roadblock was removed a little more than a week after it was constructed and now Loop Road is passable, though barely, and still closed. DLNR doesn’t have a timeframe for when repairs will be finished, as the project keeps running into “unforeseen issues.”
Green Energy, which harvests albizia in the forest, confirmed that they use a different access point to get into the forest and their access wasn’t impacted.
Kauai Island Utility Cooperative said it has been using alternate access to the Waikoko and Blue Hole areas and to the hydro plants. KIUC president and CEO David Bissell said he’s heard the rumors that the closure is related to an ongoing water permit issue and KIUC’s pursuit of a water lease in the area.
“Unfortunately, certain individuals and activist groups are continuing a false narrative about KIUC’s involvement in the road closure and activities related to our Waiahi hydro plants and the existing diversion’s impact on the Wailua river watershed and species,” he said.
He points out Loop Road has been getting “progressively worse” and is in need of repairs.
Though the roadblock has been filled, the road remains closed, according to DLNR.