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Haiku Stairs, a closed mountain path in Kaneohe that has been plagued by trespassing hikers for decades, could be removed as soon as mid-2022, according to a draft environmental impact statement released Sunday.
The Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which owns the picturesque stairs and surrounding land, said it wants to spend $986,266 to eliminate the liability and the ongoing security costs the area requires, the agency said in a report that was two years in the making.
However, the agency is open to other options and is soliciting public comment.
“If a solution for keeping Haiku Stairs cannot be achieved, then BWS will have no choice but to remove Haiku Stairs,” the report said.
The Haiku Stairs hike has become especially popular in recent years thanks to social media. The Board of Water Supply wants to wash its hands of the liability.
Also called Stairway to Heaven, the path — made up of 3,922 steps that extend from Haiku Valley up the ridges of the Koolau Range — has become a popular tourist attraction since it was built by the Navy in the 1940s. Despite its closure to the public in 1987, an estimated 4,000 hikers visit the trail every year.
“With the advent of social media, instructions to illegally access Haiku Stairs are readily available, and prolific sharing of panoramic snapshots encourages people around the world to risk the climb,” the report states.
While hikers often post self-congratulatory photos of their climb on Instagram, area residents say they are frustrated by strangers parking in their neighborhood, making noise in the early morning, walking through their private property, using their hoses to rinse off, leaving trash behind, relieving themselves in the street and otherwise disrespecting their neighborhood.
“There is an ongoing need to stop trespassing and reduce disruptions in the adjacent residential neighborhoods,” the report said.
The Board of Water Supply spends about $250,000 of water ratepayer revenues every year on security services to deter trespassers from accessing Haiku Stairs, the report said. There are other costs too, the agency said, such as the removal of a swing that was illegally installed on the ridgeline near the top of the stairs in April 2016. It cost $23,000 to remove.
The Honolulu Police Department and Fire Department also incur costs from trespassing enforcement and rescue operations, the report said.
For years, officials have grappled with what to do with the stairs.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Coast Guard owned the stairs and allowed access to about 75 people per day, according to the report. But after an episode of “Magnum P.I.” featured the attraction, visitation to the stairs ballooned to 200 people per day. The Coast Guard closed the stairs in 1987 because of vandalism and liability concerns, according to the report.
“If a solution for keeping Haiku Stairs cannot be achieved, then BWS will have no choice but to remove Haiku Stairs.” — Honolulu Board of Water Supply
In 2001, then-Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration had renewed interest in opening the stairway. The city spent $875,000 to fix damaged sections of the stairs with the intention of making them accessible to the public while it worked to obtain legal access.
By that time, the Board of Water Supply owned the stairs and was planning to transfer them to the Department of Parks and Recreation. But the city council did not approve the transfer, the report states.
The Board of Water Supply said in its report that it has again discussed a potential land transfer and takeover of the stairs by the city.
“However, at the time of this Draft EIS, the City had not made any firm plans or commitments for such a transfer and therefore removal of Haiku Stairs remains BWS’ Proposed Action,” the report states.
The public can submit comments in writing or through a comment portal at http://haikustairseis.commentinput.com/. Comments are due by August 7 and will contribute to a final environmental impact statement to be submitted to the Department of Planning and Permitting.
The Board of Water Supply board will make the final decision, according to BWS Information Officer Kathleen Pahinui. The agency hopes to complete this process by the first quarter of 2020.
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