The state proposes to install an aluminum bridge over a stream at Hanakapiai Valley on Kauai’s North Shore to keep hikers from trying to ford the stream during flash floods.
“It’s just the most obvious solution to a problem that we’ve been dealing with for decades,” said Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks. “The bridge itself is a safe means of getting out of Hanakapiai when the conditions are awful.”
The state proposes to install a 4-foot-wide, 82-foot-long aluminum pedestrian bridge across the stream. The bridge would be assembled off-site and then flown by helicopter in three segments to the remote site, where it would be bolted together.
Kalalau Trail intersects the stream 2 miles from the trailhead at Kee Beach. The bridge would be about 30 feet from the current trail to avoid obstructing the historic route. The parks division plans to add approximately 50 feet of new trail to connect the bridge to the existing trail.
To reduce unsightliness, the state plans to coat the bridge with a dark brown finish. Plastic wood composite decking is slated to be laid on the walkway to blend with the natural landscape.
The state selected an aluminum bridge because it’s durable, lightweight and rust-resistant compared with steel.
The cost of the proposed project is estimated at $506,500.
If all goes well, the state intends to start construction in early 2018. Work is expected to take about 10 weeks.
Judy Dalton, executive committee member of the Kauai Group of the Sierra Club-Hawaii Chapter, said the group is studying the environmental assessment and has yet to form an opinion on the proposed project.
There’s a sense of urgency to minimize risks as visitor traffic to Hanakapiai Beach and the 11-mile Kalalau Trail has dramatically increased since the 1980s, according to the draft. Approximately 2,000 people visit the scenic area daily.
Some visitors have minimal hiking experience and are ill-prepared.
Localized flash floods have occurred without warning, leaving the state with little or no time to alert the public of rough stream conditions as the area has no cellular phone coverage.
Fast-moving streamwaters led to the death of a 43-year-old New York woman in 2013. Norka Villacorta died when she was swept away when she attempted to cross the stream on her own during a flash flood. Firefighters rescued 54 other hikers that day who had been stranded in the valley.
One of the largest recorded rescue operations on Kauai occurred in April 2014 when firefighters airlifted 121 hikers, including children, over a two-day period.
The event sparked conversations with the Kauai Fire Department, state parks officials and other groups to determine what could be done to minimize risks.
Despite strong recommendations from the Fire Department that hikers stay put when streamwater levels rise during a flash flood, some still attempt to cross the stream, putting themselves at high risk of injury or death.
Frequent storms occurred last summer due to El Nino, one of the strongest on record, and warmer ocean temperatures created favorable conditions for rain.
Even though El Nino faded out this year, warmer temperatures still persisted in the spring and summer, bringing near- or above-average rainfall on Kauai, according to Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
The state said the proposed bridge also serves a relatively cost-efficient solution as rescues in the valley are costly. The April 2014 rescue operation cost Kauai County $3,560 in overtime pay for police and firefighters and helicopter fuel costs.
Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman, who fully supports the proposed project, said, “From our point of view, (the bridge) will reduce the risk and hazard with trying to fly people out that are taking extreme measures to extract themselves instead of staying in place.”
Carpenter said concerns have been raised by some in the community that a bridge would attract more people to Hanakapiai Beach and Kalalau Trail.
Although the state disagrees, concern about the number of visitors is being addressed under a draft environmental impact statement of the revised Haena State Park Master Plan.
The 2015 draft, a revised version of the 2001 draft, proposes to limit access to 900 people to reduce impacts on natural and cultural resources. The limit includes day hikers using the trail. It does not include overnight campers or hunters with permits or special user groups such as school groups, a hula halau that tends to the taro patch as well as those attending special educational or cultural events.
The number may be adjusted over time based on impacts to natural and cultural resources, traffic, public safety and other factors.
Haena State Park spans 65.7 acres and contains Kee Beach, the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and the trailhead of the popular Kalalau Trail.
With approximately 500,000 visitors to the Na Pali Coast annually, Carpenter said they are addressing the issue of increasing management. The state wants to add three rangers and a park manager at Na Pali sometime next year to inform and assist visitors as well as address illegal camping — a decades-long problem.
“That’s something we’re really, really fighting for,” he said of additional park management.
Currently, one ranger solely assists visitors in Haena and Hanakapiai.
Public comments on the draft environmental assessment for the proposed Hanakapiai Stream Bridge project are due by Nov. 7. Comments may be sent to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of State Parks, c/o Lauren Tanaka, Honolulu, HI 96813; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view the draft environmental assessment on the proposed bridge project, visit bit.ly/2dZP5Tm.