The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is seeking final public input on options for the future of the precarious Haiku Stairs hiking trail, with all comments due at the end of the day Tuesday.
The board has issued multiple requests for comments on the preliminary plans for the stairs, which will be taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement on the project, said board spokeswoman Kathleen Elliott-Pahinui.
“We’ll be ready to pull the trigger once we collate the topics the community wants us to look at,” she said.
The board will only accept written statements through email at email@example.com.
Hikers risk legal sanctions and brave nearly 4,000 steps for the spectacular views along the Haiku Stairs.
A board document states that the EIS will evaluate four options for the so-called “Stairway to Heaven”: tearing it down, opening it up, transferring it to a more “qualified government entity” or do nothing.
Elliott-Pahinui said the EIS should be completed in six to nine months, though a document released in April stated the entire environmental review will last about a year. The EIS will evaluate environmental and cultural factors, among others, that relate to each option.
The board’s preferred option is to remove the stairs, a process that the board expects would take five to six years. Elliot-Pahinui did not have figures for the cost of demolishing the stairs; she said that would be evaluated in the EIS.
The stairs have been officially closed to the public since 1987, and the board continues to pay for security to keep hikers out of the area. A total of 788 citations were issued and 12 arrests were made at the stairs from June 2014 to December 2016.
“Maintenance and operations of the Haiku Stairs does not support the BWS mission,” the EIS Proposal Notice reads. “The Haiku Stairs provides scenic vistas of the Koolau and Kaneohe Bay, however, in its current condition, it is a liability for BWS and adjoining ridgeline landowners because of hikers who ignore posted no trespassing signs and continue to illegally climb Haiku Stairs.”
The graph from the Board of Water Supply below shows citations and arrests made from June 2014 to December 2016.
June 2014 to December 2014
January 2015 to December 2015
January 2016 to June 2016
July 2016 to December 2016
‘A Unique Structure’
The wooden Haiku stairs were once used to get to a Naval communications facility built during World War II. Responsibility for them eventually landed with the U.S. Coast Guard, which opened the stairs to the public in 1975.
If hikers are willing to brave police sanctions and nearly 4,000 steps, they’re rewarded with a picturesque view of Oahu’s Windward Shore and valleys.
Vernon Ansdell, president of Friends of Haiku Stairs, wants to preserve those views, as well as the staircase and local flora.
“It’s a unique structure we have in Hawaii,” Ansdell said. “The thought of removing it is just outrageous.”
Ansdell and the Friends of Haiku Stairs want to keep the walkway intact and open it back up to the public. They’ll do this, he said, by charging hikers a daily fee to make the climb while also limiting the number of daily hikers to 80.
Hikers on the Haiku Stairs.
Nick Grube/Civil Beat
Traffic congestion in residential areas has also been a problem. Ansdell proposes that a shuttle take hikers to the trailhead.
As for safety?
“It’s probably one of the safest hikes in Hawaii,” Ansdell said.
He said the majority of rescues and incidents happen because some people don’t stay on the staircase. To keep hikers between the railings, Ansdell envisions groups providing safety briefings and guides placed along the stairs to monitor visitors.
Friends of Haiku Stairs presented their business plan to the Board of Water Supply 18 months ago, but the board took no action on it. This isn’t the first time that the group ran into complications with the board, however.
Ansdell and his organization used to walk up the steps to clean graffiti and clear invasive plants from the area before the board requested that they stop in 2014. Friends of Haiku Stairs have offered their help to no avail. For example, Ansdell said that they had the manpower to take down a swing illegally installed above the staircase for free; it cost the city $23,000.
“If we could get our plan accepted, we could get most of these problems solved,” Ansdell said.
Social Media Fodder
More than 27,000 Instagram posts include the hashtag “haikustairs.” For many travelers, hikers and thrill seekers, the stairs provide a rare opportunity.
In 2016, the swing caused some buzz on social media, especially after one hiker nearly fell off it. That didn’t stop other hikers from posting pictures of themselves sitting, hanging or posing on the swing.
Fines for trespassing on city property to get to the stairs can be around $1,000.
Read the Board of Water Supply’s Environmental Impact Statement Proposal Notification below.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell