HAENA, Kauai — State and county officials are trying to tamp down controversy over how smoothly the reopening of Kuhio Highway on Kauai’s North Shore is going, including actions by a self-appointed community group that has taken to waving tourist cars to the side of the road and providing inaccurate information to the occupants on where they can legally park.

The actions by the Kuhio Highway Regulation seem coordinated with a similar group that formed on Maui three years ago to create a de facto enforcement presence on Hana Highway.

The Kauai group’s actions reflect community concern about whether Kuhio Highway is actually safe for use by the general public, as opposed to being limited to residents and authorized visitors — as was the case after the devastating storms of April 2018 until the reopening in June.

Kuhio Highway Regulation volunteers try to convince visitors not to drive on a newly reopened section of the road. Courtesy of Kuhio HIghway Regulation

Though the highway is now open most of the time, work is continuing on three one-lane bridges that have required replacement since long before storms last year devastated Hanalei and much of the rest of the North Shore. There are still scheduled highway shutdowns overnight or on weekends, with some tourists being stranded when they discover they can’t return from a trip to Haena beaches.

“Our highways are just over the limits here on the North Shore. There’s lots of traffic coming through and a lot of nonresidents,” said Nancy Chandler, who has led volunteers who ask motorists that don’t appear to be local to pull over. “What we’re trying to do is lessen the nonresident cars and put them on shuttles.

“There is a lot of speeding going on and (people) pulling off to the side of the road (to sightsee). We just want to make it safe for the community.”

“A small group of individuals have engaged in stopping vehicle traffic on the highway. KPD has advised the group that the practice is illegal.” — Kim Tamaoka, Kauai Police Department

Organizers of Kuhio Highway Regulation estimate more than 400 tourist vehicles have been stopped.

And while Kauai’s chief of police, Todd Raybuck, has said he believes there may be a role for civilians to write parking tickets, the department warned them to refrain from pulling cars over.

“A small group of individuals have engaged in stopping vehicle traffic on the highway,” said Kim Tamaoka, a department spokesperson. “KPD has advised the group that the practice is illegal and future violations are subject to citation and/or arrest.”

Drivers who do pull over have been cautioned to hold their speeds down. They have also been told, erroneously, that there is no parking on Kuhio Highway past Hanalei except by permit.

In a statement, Kuhio Highway Regulation contended that police officers had refused to ticket illegally parked cars, a contention KPD denied.

Tamaoka said that in the first few days after the highway reopened, at least 10 tourist cars were ticketed for parking violations.

But she noted that, while no-parking signs threatening fines of as much as $235 now dot the final 2 miles of Kuhio Highway as it nears Haena State Park, there are several areas within the perimeter where parking is legal and that parking remains legal at numerous points outside the 2-mile no parking zone, including the famed Lumahai Beach.

Kuhio Highway Regulations’ tactics have brought new urgency to efforts by both the Kauai Visitors Bureau and state Rep. Nadine Nakamura to call attention to the need for all users of the highway in general and Haena State Park in particular to observe safety and courtesy protocols.

The corridor is still recovering from the storms of April 2018, which shut down the highway and isolated parts of the North Shore for more than a year.

In a news release and a flyer distributed to rental car companies, hotel and condominium concierge desks and other outlets, the visitors bureau reminds tourists that advance reservations are now necessary for Haena State Park and urges visitors to make use of a new shuttle service  that runs several times per hour from Hanalei to the end of the road at Kee.

The flyer also asks visitors to refrain from parking on residential streets in Wainiha and Haena.

Nakamura said she is working with a task force to develop a Q&A document that details parking restrictions and other issues. She said there may be a role for what she called “a makai watch set up to do enforcement on the highway and involving community volunteers,” but she said state law currently prohibits civilians from writing parking tickets.

Kuhio Highway Regulation appears to be an offshoot of Hana Highway Regulation on Maui, a volunteer group set up three years ago to provide information to tourists driving the famed road to Hana.

Kauai volunteers even launched a page on GoFundMe.com to raise money to pay for a Hana Highway Regulation organizer to visit Kauai and counsel local people on how to adapt Maui’s approach to Kauai. The organizer, Napua Hueu, said Hana Highway Regulation has introduced a code of conduct for tourists driving the road there.

“We’re providing visitor education in the field,” she said, “and we’ll basically be doing intricate data collection where we have people posted at four locations on Hana Highway consistently for a few months.”

She claimed that Hana Highway Regulation has been responsible for a 96% decline in illegal parking, trespassing, illegal commercial activity and inappropriate behavior at sacred sites along the road.

But the group has also been controversial, especially over its claim that Maui County has made a $200,000 commitment to support its work.

Brian Perry, Maui County’s public information officer, said that while there is a line in the county budget for that sum to be made available in grants, there have been no applicants and that, at the moment, Hana Highway Regulation does not have any formal tie to county government.

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