The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is taking steps to close down the controversial hiking trail known as the Stairway to Heaven.
The BWS plans to spends $500,000 on an environmental assessment and other studies to figure out the best way to remove the Haiku Stairs, a 3,922-step trail in Kaneohe that goes up into the Koolau mountain range.
Officials at the Board of Water Supply – the agency that manages the trail – said they planned to remove the stairs after a storm damaged portions the staircase earlier this year. The BWS does not want to manage the trail which has public safety issues and has caused problems in the neighborhood with traffic and trespassing.
Shawn Nakamoto, a spokeswoman for the water board, told Civil Beat that no other agency is interested in taking over management. Now, the BWS pays about $160,000 a year for security guard keep people off the trail.
Anyone who wants to climb the stairway needs permission from the BWS and show proof of $1 million in liability insurance.
Last month, the board voted to conduct a preliminary engineering study to figure out the most efficient, cost effective and safest way to remove the stairs. The money also will cover the cost of an environmental impact statement that will help the agency determine which demolition method is the most environmentally sound.
The cost to remove the stairs hasn’t been determined.
City Council member Ikaika Anderson has been working to find a way to reopen the stairs to the public. But he’s changed his mind and now says he supports the BWS decision to get rid of the staircase.
Anderson had been hoping to come up with an alternative access point outside of residential neighborhoods as well as another agency willing to manage the trail. So far he’s been unsuccessful.
Clarification: Anderson said Tuesday he hadn’t “changed his mind” but that he has always said he’d support removing the stairs if another management agency didn’t take over.
Still, community advocates hope there’s still a chance to save the iconic trail.
“It’s just completely ridiculous to spend all that money to remove what basically is a national treasure,” Vernon Ansdell, president of Friends of Haiku Stairs, told Civil Beat.
Damage caused during a Valentine’s Day’s storm would still need to be repaired but Ansdell said the damage was superficial and Friends of Haiku Stairs has volunteered to fix it.
Ansdell said the broken handrails on a small portion of the staircase haven’t stopped people from climbing to the top of Puu Keahiakahoe, a summit that overlooks the Koolau mountain range.
Ansdell said his group is still hoping to come up with an alternative management plan.
“We’re building momentum with what were doing,” Ansdell said. “We’re sort of working in the background to put things in place.”