Monday, Feb. 06, 2023|
Share this story
Should the government care about facts? Hawaii County doesn’t think so.
On Feb. 25, Mayor Mitch Roth closed the Waipi‘o Valley Road to the general public. The decision came with no prior public notice or input. Mayor Roth claimed emergency powers, but no recent or imminent storm, earthquake, landslide, change in the condition of the road or other event had created an emergency.
To explain the decision, the Department of Public Works cited an engineering report about rockfall risks done by Hart Crowser, a division of Haley Aldrich. To estimate the risk, Hart Crowser said it used a mathematical formula developed by a national engineering society.
I emailed DPW and Hart Crowser in early March showing that Hart Crowser had not followed that formula. As a result, the report exaggerated the risk to pedestrians by about 280 times, and to occupants of vehicles by about 100 times.
Panos Prevedouros, a retired professor from the Department of Engineering at the University of Hawaii, has also looked at Hart Crowser’s estimate and determined that it exaggerated the risk by these same amounts.
Hart Crowser’s risk estimate means that every year about three pedestrians should have been getting killed by rockfalls on the Waipi‘o Valley Road. But there’s never been a single incident! That alone should tell the County that Hart Crowser’s report is wrong.
I’ve explained all this to DPW and Hart Crowser. They have never offered a rebuttal or defense.
To understand what Hart Crowser did wrong takes a little math, but it’s only multiplication and division. DPW’s engineers would see the errors if they just did the math. Despite receiving detailed explanations of the errors, DPW says it has never asked Hart Crowser to justify its numbers.
DPW recently said it “stands firmly behind” Hart Crowser’s conclusions. By now, Hart Crowser should have told DPW that its report is erroneous. If it hasn’t, this is fraud on the taxpayers, who paid for this report on a no-bid contract.
According to the Canon of Ethics for Professional Engineers, “engineers shall acknowledge their errors.”
Mayor Roth’s decision banned all pedestrian travel, along with all vehicular travel except for valley residents, farmers and a few essential services. The county said the ban will last about three years, while it fixes potential rockfall hazards.
The decision means the public cannot go into Waipi‘o Valley, one of the most beautiful and storied places in Hawaii. Before the closure, on a normal weekend day, dozens of local families and surfers would be enjoying the beach at Waipi‘o. It is the only public ocean access in 40 miles of shoreline.
Because of the ban, volunteers cannot work on stewardship projects, such as on taro lo‘i. Valley residents are not supposed to have visits from friends and family. Hikers and hunters cannot get to public trails in Waipi‘o or go on to Waimanu Valley.
Mayor Roth has said repeatedly that he did not want to close the Waipi‘o Valley Road, but had to do it for public safety. He should be happy to learn that the consultant report greatly exaggerated the risk, and reconsider the decision.
But the road remains closed.
The road does have safety issues. It’s steep, narrow, and has severe drop-offs. Some visitors — and some locals — don’t follow the basic rules of the road. These issues are not emergencies. They have existed for years. And they are not the reasons the county gave for closing the road.
Better traffic management, better signs, and more education would help. But let’s not close the road because of a vastly exaggerated risk.
I’ve worked to get public access to the shoreline since 1971. I was the planning director for the County of Hawaii for eight years. I spent much of that time using the land use laws to improve public access to the shoreline.
It’s painful to see the county now banning its own citizens from Waipi‘o, especially based on a report that it must know is false.
Chris Yuen is a resident of Ninole.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *