Monday, April 20, 2015

End May Be Nearing For Haiku Stairs, Neighborhood Board Is Told

City Councilman Ikaika Anderson
A plan to remove the Haiku Stairs is progressing, Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson told the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board on April 16.

Councilman Anderson said the city Board of Water Supply, which owns the stairs, anticipates spending $1 million to $5 million on the project. He said no government agency will accept responsibility for managing the stairs. He also said the Board of Water Supply was unwilling to enter a public-private partnership to have a business manage the stairs.

Safety, Hiker Conflicts Are Issues

The stairs, which are more than 60 years old, stretch about 2 miles and rise about 2,000 feet on the Kaneohe side of the Koolau mountain range. The stairs offer spectacular views of Windward Oahu and the Pacific Ocean. However, public access to the stairs has been restricted since the 1980's.

An excellent history of the stairs up till 1990 is available at
In 2003, the stairs were repaired, costing the city $950,000. Since 2003, the Friends of Haiku Stairs have conducted quarterly work parties to maintain the stairs and control alien species which dominate much of the vegetation in the valley.  

In 2013, the Caldwell administration determined the Board of Water Supply owns the property under the stairs, and the Board of Water Supply has not allowed any maintenance of the stairs since they took over. In February 2015, a strong wind storm toppled trees across a lower section of the stairs and damaged some railings.  Reports that the storm damaged the stairs beyond repair are vastly exaggerated.

Despite the restrictions and maintenance issues, the stairs have attracted hundreds of hikers each month. That activity has led to numerous conflicts with residents at the base of the stairs over noise, trespassing and parking.

Task Force Offered Plan To Reopen Stairs 

A task force that included representation from the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board recommended last fall that the stairs be reopened with a managed access point away from homes. However, that recommendation has not gained support.

The Board of Water Supply has stated that their mission is supplying water to Oahu. Agency officials say that managing a recreation facility such as the stairs is not their mission and that they have no expertise which would enable them to manage the stairs safely.

Destroying Stairs Would Be Short-Sighted

The Haiku Stairs is definitely not a hike for those faint of heart.  There are places where a fall would be fatal.  However, hundreds of thousands of people have climbed the stairs with no accident related to the stairs.  People who hike in the mountains of Hawaii need to be aware that straying from established trails can be dangerous.

Haiku Valley, which surrounds the stairs, is marked by a mix of ownerships among the city, the state and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The head of the valley could be a valuable community resource for passive recreation, Hawaiian cultural practices and environmental education. The continuing conflict over the stairs is one reason that potential hasn’t been realized. 

The Haiku Stairs are important historically, and they represent a unique and spectacular climb that attracts people from all over the world.  The solution to the problem of homeowner conflict is to actively manage the valley for the benefit of Haiku Valley residents, and for the people of Hawaii and of the world.  Short-sighted politicians are planning to destroy one of the wonders of the world.

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