STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Oct. 14--Bureaucratic snags continue to stall attempts to reach a long-term solution to the city's Haiku Stairs dilemma.
On one side are hiking groups and environmental interests who want to see the long-stalled hiking path reopened so hikers can once again see the panoramic views at the top of the 2,800-foot path. On the other are Haiku residents who in recent years have seen their properties trashed and trespassed on by hikers visiting the stairs illegally at night to avoid detection by a security guard.
An ad hoc committee of Honolulu City Council members, led by Council Parks Chairman Joey Manahan, agreed to the requests of the nonprofit group Friends of Ha'iku Stairs to look into the possibility of reopening the popular trail once nicknamed the "Stairway to Heaven."
But Manahan, in a report to the Council last week, said neither he nor his colleagues will be able to determine whether the stairs can be reopened until they can physically inspect the trail.
When Manahan and three other Council members began organizing an August field trip to survey the trail and surrounding area, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which maintains ownership of the trail, required that they be escorted by trail experts from the Friends group.
City Water Manager Ernest Lau, who heads the board, said that's because his staff is not familiar with the stairs.
The board also wanted Friends of Ha'iku Stairs to carry a minimum $1 million liability insurance policy before its members could go on the field trip. Lau said the agency requires such insurance whenever anyone tries to access board property.
The Friends group, however, had let its policy lapse years ago.
Vernon Ansdell, Friends president, said his organization is now obtaining a new policy. The group, which used to pay $1,100 to $1,200 a year, has some funds available and is willing to pay for the policy "if that's what it costs us to achieve our goals."
Meanwhile, Manahan's committee recommended that the stairs be closed "until sound and reasonable recommendations are obtained after a full observation and inspection."
While they have yet to ascend the stairs, Manahan and his committee toured the area below them, including several access points to the trail.
Manahan said the tour made it clear that accessibility and liability are the key obstacles in the way of a reopening.
Most parties who want the site reopened believe the best entry point would be at the former U.S. Coast Guard Omega Station, now under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Most hikers have parked at the station parking lot and walked to the stairs, away from neighbors. DHHL now has a locked gate there.
The city's Haiku Stairs is closed to the public but that doesn't stop hikers who climb the 2,800-foot path at night to avoid security during the day.
Hiking and environmental groups want to see stairs reopened to give hikers access to the panoramic views but neighboring residents complain trespassing visitors trash the area.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Ha'iku Stairs legal complications persist
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
KANE'OHE — The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands says it is "very close" to an agreement that would give the city access to Ha'iku Stairs, and cannot comply with a legislative request to deny access until the administration meets a range of conditions.
Resolution HCR199, which was approved by the Legislature last month, does not have the force of law, but asks the departments of Hawaiian Home Lands, Transportation, and Land and Natural Resources, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to not issue any easement to the city for access to Ha'iku Valley and Ha'iku Stairs until all required permitting, approvals and conditional agreements are identified by the respective agencies and adhered to by the city. These cover issues ranging from liability to maintenance as well as the preservation of cultural sites.
But DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said the resolution is just an expression of the Legislature's wish.
"While we respect their wish, we hope they understand that our obligation is to our beneficiaries, and in the best interest of our beneficiaries we're moving forward," Yonenaka said.
City officials could not be reached for comment.
For months, DHHL, which owns 147 acres of land in the valley next to the stairs, and the city have been negotiating a land swap that would give the city land in the valley to build a parking lot and other amenities for hikers. The city has offered DHHL property in 'Ewa suitable for homes. DHHL has determined that developing homes in Ha'iku would be too costly.
Yonenaka said the swap will not include all of the Ha'iku Valley land belonging to DHHL.
The 3,922-step stairs in Ha'ku Valley were repaired in 2002 at a cost of $875,000 to the city but have remained closed because of a lack of legal access to the popular attraction. As a result, hikers numbering at times in the hundreds a day were trespassing over neighboring property, causing ill feelings between hikers and residents. That prompted some residents to call for permanent closure of the stairs.
The city is now providing security at the stairs in an attempt to keep illegal hikers away.
State Rep. Ken Ito, who introduced the resolution, said his intention was to get all parties to the table and talking. Ito said he felt that was happening now and he looks forward to the city getting the land, building a parking lot and accessing the stairs through Ha'ku Road.
"Now the city is looking at it seriously," said Ito, D-48th (Kane'ohe). "Now they're really talking."
But the other agencies said they were not involved with the negotiations at this time and have no power to deny access to the property.
The state Department of Transportation said the city would have to petition the Federal Highway Administration if it wanted to use the H-3 maintenance road, which DOT owns, to get to people on the stairs. The maintenance road is on Department of Land and Natural Resources property and the city would have to talk to them, said Scott Ishikawa, DOT spokesman.
"For security reasons and liability reasons, the city would have to go through them," Ishikawa said.
The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs doesn't have the power to grant access and would only be involved if the land is ceded and there's some revenue generated from it, said Scotty Bowman, with OHA.
If the agencies did adhere to the resolution, it could further delay the opening of the stairs and interfere with DHHL efforts to get people into homes, said Keoki Leong, chairman of the Ha'iku Stairs Task Force.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 234-5266
City to crack down on Ha'iku Stairs hikers
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
KANE'OHE — The city will crack down on hundreds of hikers who are trespassing to climb the Ha'iku Stairs until the popular hiking trail is opened in about three weeks.
Beginning today, Honolulu police officers will stand guard at the bottom of the stairs to turn people away for the next two weekends, including the Fourth of July holiday.
Trespassing and other problems have escalated in Ha'iku Valley since October, when the city delayed the opening after spending $875,000 to refurbish the 3,922 stairs that rise 2,800 feet above the valley.
Because of liability concerns, the stairs remain closed while the city prepares adequate warning signs.
City Managing Director Ben Lee said wording for the signs has been agreed upon and the stairs will open in two to four weeks.
Meanwhile, the problems are even worse than when the stairs were last open, in the late 1980s, residents say.
Neighbors had asked for the guards because hikers have been crossing their property, using their water hoses, verbally abusing homeowners, blocking mail delivery and trash pickup and cutting fences to reach their destination, said Rae Leong, who has lived in the valley for 15 years.
One neighbor complained about being mooned by a hiker, and two neighbors got into a fistfight after one told a hiker he could park in front of his house. Still other residents have retaliated against hikers by deflating or slashing their tires, she said.
"It's turned our neighborhood into a war zone," Leong said.
Frustrations peaked recently when she and her neighbors received letters from the city Refuse Division and the U.S. Postal Service saying there would be no service if parked cars continued to prevent access to trash cans and mailboxes.
Leong blames the hikers, saying they begin arriving at 5 a.m. and stay as late as 7:30 p.m. Early-morning hikers set dogs barking, waking residents, Leong said.
Despite state signs marked No Trespassing, hikers jump the fence or cut their way through, she said, noting that there are four access points to the stairs, two of which are in her neighborhood.
Leong said she has had run-ins with hikers and police, and hopes the city will act soon. Other neighborhoods also are complaining, she said. "I'm to the point where maybe I need to talk to my neighbors and consider a class-action lawsuit."
Some neighbors said commercial operators, including Hike Oahu, bring tour groups to hike the stairs. A spokesperson for Hike Oahu denied bringing people to the valley.
In fair weather, more than 200 hikers will pass by, said Ha'iku Valley resident Cody Murray, 13. Neighbors sometimes yell at hikers, but that doesn't stop them, Murray said.
"Hikers just come up here like it's their own place," he said. "They don't respect us. They just park anywhere."
At another access, Marsha Wittig said she wasn't bothered by the hikers, who seemed to be more local kids lately. Many residents said military personnel tend to make up a large percentage of the hikers.
"I have not had a trash problem or anything," Wittig said, adding that she had seen hikers pick up after themselves.
The problem was brought to the attention of the Kane'ohe Neighborhood Board and City Councilwoman Barbara Marshall last week.
Board member Sam Moku said about a dozen Ha'iku Valley residents aired their grievances, saying the stairs are advertised on tourist-oriented Web pages and in brochures. Moku said if the city doesn't open the stairs soon, placing razor wire atop the fences might work.
Marshall said the city delayed the opening to make appropriate signs, in light of a Circuit Court case in which a judge found the state negligent, partly because of poor signage, in the fatal 1999 rockslide at Sacred Falls.
Once the stairs open, hikers will be directed to Hope Chapel on Po'okela Street, where the city has arranged for parking and entrance to a path to the stairs, Marshall said. It is hoped that will reduce problems in the neighborhoods.
"We haven't opened the stairs, and that's the whole problem," she said.
Lee said Marshall had requested the guards, who will turn people away until the stairs open.
The city has opted to place signs all along the trail rather than just at the bottom, Lee said. Temporary signs are being made and will be installed soon; permanent porcelain signs will replace them.
"The stairs will be closed over the next two weeks so that some of the residents have some peace of mind," he said.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@ honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.
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• Correction: Two Ha'iku Valley neighbors got into a fistfight after one told a Ha'iku Stairs hiker he could park in front of his house. An earlier verison story yesterday had an incorrect description of that confrontation.