Council committee advances bill that would close part of Waipio Valley Road to foot traffic

  • POINDEXTER

  • A vehicle makes its way down Waipio Valley Road in this image grab from a YouTube video posted in March 2019 by Big Island Off Road Adventures.

The Hawaii County Council soon will consider the possibility of closing a portion of Waipio Valley Road to pedestrians.

The Public Works and Mass Transit Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to move to the full council a bill that would close to foot traffic a portion of the steep, one-lane road from the Waipio Valley lookout to the valley floor.

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The restriction would not apply in case of emergencies; to owners, lessees and residents of the valley; or to Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners exercising their traditional and customary rights.

Earlier this month, the committee postponed making a decision on the bill, presented by outgoing Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, to allow for further discussion.

During the committee’s discussion Tuesday, Council Chairman Aaron Chung asked why the county doesn’t transfer the road to nearby property owner Kamehameha Schools.

Poindexter said Kamehameha Schools owns the beach area in the valley, but the Bishop Museum is the largest landowner in Waipio Valley.

“That has been part of the conversation for a while,” she said, but added it is not being considered at this time because of liability issues. Poindexter also said the road is in desperate need of repair.

In response to another question from Chung, about the possibility of restricting access with permits, Poindexter said the county has been working on permitting for vehicular access for the past several years.

“There’s a lot of issues in the valley that need to be addressed,” Poindexter told the Tribune-Herald following the meeting. “This pedestrian access is one of many issues, but at least we’re starting to (address it). … But if we can take care of pedestrian access first while working on vehicular access, that would save some lives. It’s a little dangerous right now. … Time is of the essence, too, but life is of the essence more.”

Poindexter said she’s been working with the Corporation Counsel and other stakeholders on a permitting system.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards said the bill is a good first step to address safety.

“I don’t see this as the end-all by any stretch. This is just hitting kind of the pause button to get control of some of the safety issues … .”

Two Waipio Valley taro farmers also voiced support for the measure, saying vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic do not mix on the narrow roadway.

Farmer Jim Cain said the situation is a “recipe for disaster,” and that someone will be seriously injured or killed unless action is taken.

“It really is your kuleana as a council to step up there,” he said. “There’s not another road in the state and on this island that allows pedestrians to meander in front of traffic in this fashion.”

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“The taro farmers and the residents of Waipio have waited much too long for us to take action protecting Waipio Valley,” Poindexter said Tuesday afternoon. “This is their livelihood, and we need to make sure we protect it for generations to come.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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