- A group of Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers, ʻohana and thier supporters – known as Protect Waipiʻo Valley on social media – began blocking the Waipiʻo Valley Access Road on Monday, September 19.
- In a statement to media, Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth said his administration is aware that the group is “asking that no one enter the valley at this time unless they have an immediate responsibility there or are a resident,” and that his administration “supports their efforts to educate prospective visitors about their sentiments and asks the community to be mindful of their actions as they affect others.”
- The move comes after several developments surrounding the only access into the treasured valley. In February 2022, Mayor Roth issued an Emergency Rule limiting access to Waipiʻo Valley Road, citing the hazardous conditions of the steep, vehicular path leading to the valley. Visitors who were not residents or farmers in the valley were no longer allowed. Tourism activities were also prohibited.
- Legal action was taken on behalf of those denied access to the road. A volunteer community association, Mālama i ke Kai ʻo Waipiʻo, announced on August 31 that it had reached an agreement with the County – mediated with retired Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza – to restore ocean access to Waipiʻo Valley.
- On September 16, Mayor Roth signed new Waipiʻo Valley Road Emergency Rules, allowing all Hawaiʻi Island residents, county-permitted tour company operators, and those seeking to practice their Native Hawaiian traditional and/or customary rights to access the Waipiʻo Valley road in covered 4-wheel drive vehicles.
The Protect Waipiʻo Valley group issued this news release on September 17:
After exhausting all measures towards a pono resolution with the County of Hawaiʻi, Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers and ʻohana and supporters plan to blockade the road to Waipiʻo on September 19, 2022 starting at 8 am to protest an Amended Traffic Emergency Zone Declaration and First Waipiʻo Valley Road Declaration of Emergency going in effect at that time, and are asking for public support of this desperate measure to protect Waipiʻo Valley.
The Declaration essentially reopens the road to commercial tour operators, whose vans, weighing over 10 tons, will again be allowed to access the valley multiple times per day. The Declaration also allows access to uninvited Hawaiʻi Island residents, who like the tour operators, have no function and do nothing to contribute to the valley. This reopening is taking place although the County has done absolutely nothing to mitigate the dangerous condition of the road, which the declaration states “poses substantial endangerment to public health and safety, and warrants preemptive and protective action in order to provide for the healthy, safety and welfare for the people using the road, who will be negatively impacted if the road fails.” This is in direct violation of past and current safety concerns of Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers and ʻohana who, for many decades, have called for the road to be open only to farmers, residents and individuals who give back to Waipiʻo, as cultural practitioners, working the loʻi, or taking care of Waipiʻoʻs unique natural and cultural resources.
At the same time the amended declaration restricts access on horseback, ATVs and riding in the back of trucks, which is how many Waipiʻo farmers and residents access Waipiʻo to mālama ʻāina. These restrictions were made without any input from the Waipiʻo community, who has spent countless hours over the past decades in discussions with County and State officials regarding the future of Waipiʻo Valley. This lack of due process to consider the input from Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers and ʻohana in making decisions that impact them and the valley can not and will no longer be tolerated. It is the Countyʻs civil duty to protect community members and address signficant community safety concerns, which Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitchell Roth has chosen to ignore, in response to legal threats by special interest groups.
According to Policy 52 of the Hāmākua CDP, crafted collaboratively by County staff and the Waipiʻo community, Waipiʻo is designated as a wahi pana, defined as a place of spiritual power, which links Hawaiians to our past and our future. As a wahi pana, Waipiʻo and its unique and irreplacable resources and traditions need our protection and our respect – not only for their historical signficance, but also for their human signficance to modern kanaka. Waipiʻo Valley road is one of these critical resources for all farming and residing in Waipiʻo and must be framed and protected as such. Indeed, protecting the Wahi Pana o Waipiʻo must be a County priority.
Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers and ʻohana are asking for the publicʻs support to join them in solidarity to rescind or change the Amended Traffic Emergency Zone Declaration and First Waipiʻo Valley Road Declaration of Emergency by coming to the Waipiʻo Lookout on Monday, September 19, 2022 at 8 am or anytime thereafter. Come and show your support for the ʻohana of Waipiʻo and the tradition of taro farming perpetuated in the valley since the time of Hāloa. Letʻs stop the County from yielding to ongoing pressures by special interest groups, while ignoring decades of data shared by Waipiʻoʻs kalo kanu o ka ʻāina (natives from generations back) to respect and protect Waipiʻo as a wahi pana.
A Press Conference will be held at the Waipiʻo Lookout at 12 p.m. on Monday, September 19, 2022 to update the community and the general public on the significant Waipiʻo Road safety concerns shared by Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers and ʻohana for some time and our vehement opposition to the Amended Traffic Emergency Zone Declaration and First Waipiʻo Valley Road Declaration of Emergency.
Mayor Mitch Roth issued this statement on Monday (September 19) in response to the actions of the Protect Waipiʻo Valley group:
“Our administration stands by the potential danger that the Waipiʻo Valley Access Road presents to all who traverse it. To mitigate that potential danger, we closed the roadway to all non-valley residents and/or kalo farmers in February. Since then, we have been challenged on our decision in court and have gone through mediation regarding access rules for other constituencies, have listened to additional community concerns, and have continued to review expert information. The amended declaration and rules reflect all of those factors. However, this access only pertains to the roadway itself and not the land beyond where the County road ends. All land beyond our roadway is privately owned. That said, we understand that the residents, kūpuna, and kalo farmers of the valley are asking that no one enter the valley at this time unless they have an immediate responsibility there or are a resident. Our administration supports their efforts to educate prospective visitors about their sentiments and asks the community to be mindful of their actions as they affect others. Hawaiʻi Island is a place of great respect and aloha, and we are confident that our residents and visitors will make decisions representative of such. We look forward to continued discussions regarding access to the roadway and encourage everyone who is a stakeholder to participate in those meetings to ensure their manaʻo is represented. This is the only way that we will be able to ensure a thriving Hawaiʻi Island where all our keiki can thrive and succeed.”
Mālama i ke Kai ʻo Waipiʻo also clarified their position on the situation, and said it “supports the stand against tourism” in a media release that was also issued on Monday.
Mālama i ke Kai ʻo Waipiʻo (MaKa) supports Waipiʻo Valley kūpuna, farmers, and ‘ohana in their stance against tourism in Waipiʻo during this emergency proclamation.
“We support the Waipiʻo kūpuna, farmers, and ‘ohana in their stance that tourism, as it exists currently, does not contribute to a thriving Waipiʻo Valley. We disagree with Mayor Roth’s handling of this situation and feel that the county’s use of Emergency Proclamations as a management mechanism has resulted in directly pitting our community members against each other,” says Roland Shackelford, MaKa president. “While we feel strongly that the relationship of our local community with the ocean and coastal area in Waipiʻo is vital, we know that stewardship is necessary and are here to listen and work collaboratively with community members to mālama Waipiʻo.”
On August 26, MaKa reached a mediated agreement with the County to amend the Mayor’s Emergency Proclamation issued on February 25, 2022. In their proposal to the County, MaKa requested restored ocean access for Hawai‘i Island residents, Native Hawaiians for traditional and customary practices, and a total ban on all rental vehicles. “MaKa worked to integrate the pressing concerns from valley stakeholders that were brought up during the long-term steering committee process in the mediation negotiations. Unfortunately, due to procedural aspects of mediation, only plaintiffs and defendants were able to participate directly in mediation. This is why legislative processes are appropriate for long-term management solutions, instead of Emergency Proclamations, because they are inclusive of broad stakeholder voices,” says Shackelford.
MaKa did not seek nor request the resumption of licensed and insured tour operations. This addition was made by the County during the mediation process. “It seemed that the Mayor was responding to threats of a renewed lawsuit by the tour operators, and his path was predetermined, with or without our support. In fact, the Mayor issued his amended emergency declaration before presenting formal settlement terms to MaKa. “It is clear that tourism is unacceptable to the Waipiʻo Valley kūpuna, farmers, and ‘ohana, and without a collaborative management plan in place for the short and long term, we support this refusal,” says Shackelford.
Mālama i ke Kai ʻo Waipiʻo agrees that the increased levels of visitors, both tourists, and locals, accessing Waipiʻo needs to be addressed and a collaborative management plan put into place. This Emergency Proclamation provides no long-term management solution. MaKa hopes to engage with Waipiʻo Valley kūpuna, farmers and ‘ohana in support of this work to mālama ‘āina.
For more information, please visit MaKaʻs website www.oceanaccesswaipio.org. The group is committed to the long-term and sustainable stewardship of Waipi‘o, and welcomes new members.