A group of Big Island residents is suing Mayor Mitch Roth over his closure of the popular Waipio Valley Road. The other defendant named is Ikaika Rodenhurst, Hawaii County’s director of public works.

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The lawsuit claims that Roth acted arbitrarily and capriciously when he declared a traffic emergency on the road on Feb. 25, saying it needed to be closed because it posed an “imminent threat” to the public.

 

The complaint, filed Friday in 3rd Circuit Court, says Roth relied on a flawed engineering report that exaggerated the risks of falling rocks to pedestrians and motorists.

“There appear to be no records of incidents of injury or death to persons from rock fall, landslide or roadway failure along Waipio Valley Road at any time during the last 50 years,” according to the complaint.

The engineering report, prepared by Seattle-based Hart Crowser, estimated that pedestrians on the road have a greater than 1 in 18,000 chance of dying from rockfall and motorists face a 1 in 170,000 chance of dying that way every time they make a trip on the road.

Attorney Steven Strauss, who filed the suit on behalf of a group of ocean users, hired civil engineer Panos Prevedouros to analyze the report’s risk calculations. Prevedouros found that the risk to pedestrians from rockfall is approximately 1 in 5 million and the risk to vehicle occupants is about 1 in 17 million. Prevedouros is identified as the retired chair of the Department of Engineering, University of Hawaii.

No scientific information or expertise states that Waipio road is in imminent threat of slope or roadway failure, and commonsense and historical evidence shows that the claims upon which the road closure are untrue, the lawsuit states.

The emergency road closure allows property owners and farmers who live in Waipio Valley to continue to use the road while denying access to others. According to the lawsuit, that violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection against intentional and arbitrary discrimination.

The plaintiffs are Malama I Ke Kai O Waipio, a nonprofit that works to ensure ocean access on Hawaii island, as well as several other Big Island residents.

A spokesman for Roth said he could not comment on active litigation.

“However, I will say that Mayor Roth understands the importance of Waipiʻo Valley to our community, particularly those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, and looks forward to addressing the safety issues associated with the roadway in a timely and meaningful fashion,” spokesman Cyrus Johnasen said by email.

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