HANAKAPI‘AI — The state has temporarily suspended a bridge-building project over the Hanakapi‘ai Stream on Kaua‘i’s North Shore because people have been undoing the work that’s being done, according to a press release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The project to put a pedestrian bridge over the stream started in 2014, when members of the DLNR Division of State Parks met with Kaua‘i Fire Department officials to discuss safety along the stream after a rescue of 121 flood-stranded people that April.
In a news release about the project’s temporary suspension, DLNR said the number of aerial rescue operations and the history of flood fatalities compelled KFD to request DSP to pursue not only a pedestrian bridge but other safety enhancements to the area as well.
“Complex rescue operations in bad weather conditions jeopardize the safety of residents, visitors and our first responders,” DLNR staff said in the release.
According to Kaua‘i Fire Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas, dozens of people have drowned in the Hanakapi‘ai Valley over the years, and “KFD personnel have numerous stories — myself included — on the precarious positions we put ourselves in whenever we perform rescues in this area.”
The bridge, according to state officials, is meant to reduce the risk of need for rescues in that area. It’s also part of an effort to “create a modern safety feature integrated into a natural and cultural environment,” the release said. Those opposing the bridge project say it will only make access to the often-dangerous Napali Coast State Wilderness Park easier for inexperienced hikers, and suggest the bridge will result in the need for more rescues (see a letter to the editor, A6).
After the meeting with the fire department in 2014, DSP staff initiated a series of actions that included finding funding, planning efforts, meetings and permitting, that readied the bridge project.
Due to the 2018 floods, the project was put on hold in favor of addressing Ha‘ena State Park flood repairs and master-plan improvements.
Then, on Dec. 10, 2019, final bridge approval was granted within the county Special Mangement Area via a public hearing before the Planning Commission. The project was strongly supported by the county, including testimony from the Mayor’s Office and the acting fire chief. Bridge construction activities began last month.
Then, on Aug. 10, progress was impeded, according to the release, when “several individuals disrupted and interfered with construction in a manner that jeopardized their safety and that of the contractor and helicopter pilot, when they occupied the designated landing zone.”
DLNR said currently there are reports that individuals are undoing the work initiated on the bridge footings and that, during the initial work on one of the footings, a large pohaku (stone) where a bridge footing will be located was significantly altered.
“This was a regrettable design error and is an acknowledged source of discontent,” DLNR staff said in the Thursday release.
Due to the interference and potential compromising of the footing work, DSP has halted the bridge work to provide an opportunity to discuss potential design changes.
Thursday, DLNR warned “absent understanding and agreement, further disruption will necessitate legal action.”