City Looks for plan for Haiku Stairs
by Gordon Y.K. Pang
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Members of the City Council and Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration promised to try again to come up with a plan for the Haiku Stairs that would appease both hikers and Kaneohe residents who say they’re tired of unruly visitors and other trespassers.
Members of the Friends of Haiku Stairs want the city to reopen access roads to the hiking trail and to institute a management program there similar to Haunauma Bay Nature Preserve.
But at a Council Parks Committee meeting Monday, the area’s state lawmakers, fire and police representatives and a resident said it’s time that access to Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, be cut off permanently by removing the bottom rungs of the trail.
At the end of the meeting, Council Parks Chairman Joey Manahan said he will establish a working group or task force “to look at possible solutions.”
Windward Councilman Ikaika Anderson said he views Caldwell’s position critical to a possible opening.
Caldwell issued a release later Monday saying the illegal trespassing problems raised by Haiku residents must be resolved before he will support reopening the stairs.
“The Haiku Stairs is a unique attraction and I would like to find a solution or partnership that might allow the city to reopen them, but that will only happen if the access issue is resolved to the neighborhood’s satisfaction.”
The stairs were part of the Coat Guard’s Omega transmission station at the bottom of Haiku Valley and were built by the Navy in 1943 to reach the cable facilities above the valley. Wooden stairs were replaced with galvanized metal ones in 1955.
The city, under the leadership of former Mayor Jeremy Harris and then Windward Councilman Steve Holmes, took ownership of the stairs from the military in the early 2000s and the city spent $875,000 to repair them. But jurisdictional entanglements ensued as opposition from residents mounted and the attraction never reopened.
State Re. Ken Ito, (D, Kaneohe-Maunawili-Kailua) said he does not believe the trail should be reopened, at least not until neighborhood concerns are addressed.
Ito said the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which both own property the public will need to access the city-owned stairs, have indicated a reluctance to make their sections public.
Ito said he has tried for more than 10 years to resolve the issues involving the stairs.
Caroline Sluyter, DOT spokeswoman, told the Star-Advertiser that a DOT-maintained road used during construction of the H-3 freeway is not paved and was never intended to be a public road.
Fire Department Capt. Dale Mosher said fire officials hold that not only should the trail be closed, but that the city should remove the stairs on the lower portion to shut them down permanently.
“We think it’s risky to the public,” Mosher said. “We think it’s risky to ourselves and we would like it shut down.”
A string of Friends of Haiku Stairs supporters and hiking enthusiasts urged Council members to at least listen to arguments for reopening the trail, which they view as a valuable environmental and cultural resource.
Many said they believe a majority of the concerns raised by the residents stem from the tendency of hikers to try to reach the stairs in the middle of the night to avoid being stopped by security guards stationed at the base of the trail during the day. Vernon Ansell, Friends of Haiku Stairs president, said there are four access roads that can be reopened that would allow hikers to reach the stairs during daylight hours without disturbing neighbors.
Like other supporters, Ansell said the trail is a unique treasure that should be valued and preserved. His group holds tree to four work days a year along the trail, clearing it and removing alien species. “It’s just amazing what’s up there and can be made available to the general public,” he said.
Supporters of reopening the trail also dismissed conchs that it is unsafe, noting that the death of a man on the stairs two years ago was the result of a heart attack.