(BIVN) – During a recent virtual meeting, Hawaiʻi island residents spoke out – both in favor and against – on the decision to close the Waipiʻo Valley Road to visitors.
Mayor Mitch Roth, who participated in the online meeting, told those on the Zoom call that the closure was “not something that we wanted to do, it’s something that we had to do.”
The County of Hawaiʻi issued the new Emergency Rule in late February, citing the hazardous conditions of steep, vehicular path leading to the treasured Waipiʻo Valley.
The road remains open to Waipiʻo Valley residents, farmers, property owners and lease holders with agricultural businesses. Officials say the decision is “based on recommendations provided in a geotechnical assessment done on Waipio Valley Road, which outlines the immediate need to mitigate rockfall and address slope instability and erosion, for everyone’s safety.”
“We do not plan on this road being closed permanently,” Roth said during the meeting. “The plan is to get it fixed as quickly as possible to make it so people can get down to the valley in a safe manner.”
Roth said it was “never the intention of putting anybody out of business or taking away things that people had. Clearly this is just about safety.”
“The geotechnical risk assessment is wrong,” testified Chris Yuen, a Hilo-born former county planning director. “It overstates the risk to pedestrians by about 280 times and it overstates the risk to vehicles by about 100 times. This is not a matter of engineering judgment or professional expertise this is a matter of common sense and basic math.”
“A lot of us have used Waipiʻo to feed our families,” said a testifier identified as John Farrell. “You can’t dive year-round there, you can’t fish year-round there, you cannot get into the water year-round there. So to cut off access for the people, community especially in the immediate community that have always used Waipiʻo, it’s not right and it’s not fair.”
“I want to thank you folks for shutting down that road,” said Kū Kahakalau, “and just like my daughter said, please think of long-term implications. Let’s not just fix it and then open it up again, but find solutions for the future that will help all of Waipiʻo.”
In attendance for the meeting were the representatives from the County’s Department of Public Works, Corporation Counsel, the Office of the Mayor, and the Office of Councilmember Heather Kimball. Officials said a future meeting will be held on the issue.