The construction of a footbridge across the stream in Hanakapiai Valley, in Kauai’s rugged Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, has been temporarily halted due to interference at the site, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced in a press release today.
The footbridge project was intended to promote public safety in a natural area prone to sudden flash floods that have swept many hikers to their deaths, most recently in 2014, and first responders going to their rescue have also been endangered, the release stated.
“This project was initiated in 2014 with the support of the (Kauai Fire Dept.) after several rescues in extremely dangerous conditions threatened the lives of our first responders,” Kaua‘i Fire Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas said in the statement. “Dozens of people have drowned in the Hanakapiai Valley over the years, and KFD personnel have numerous stories — myself included — on the precarious positions we put ourselves in whenever we perform rescues in this area.”
On Monday, several people occupied a designated helicopter landing zone in the valley “in a manner that jeopardized their safety and that of the contractor and helicopter pilot,” the release said.
In addition, “there are reports that individuals are undoing the work initiated on the bridge footings,” the agency noted, “at one of which a large pohaku (stone) had been significantly altered” as part of the project.
“This was a regrettable design error and is an acknowledged source of discontent,” the agency said of the damage to the pohaku, adding that a community dialogue would be sought: DLNR/ (Division of) State Parks “hopes that the pausing of work on the bridge at this time will allow for a period of contemplation as it pursues a more collaborative path,” including “an opportunity to discuss potential design changes.”
Going forward, DSP will consider impacts on natural landforms such as pohaku, the agency added.
Ornellas said, “As fellow residents and community members, we (at KFD) also understand the cultural sensitivities involved in such a project, and hope that all stakeholders can find a successful resolution so that this project can continue in a manner that is respectful.”
Both the fire chief and the agency said that the bridge is intended to evacuate people from Hanakapiai during flash floods, rather than to bring more people to the area.
Following extreme rains, flooding and mudslides in April 2018 that turned Kauai’s north shore into a disaster area, many local residents in 2019 protested against the reopening of the two-lane Kuhio Highway to the estimated 3,000 tourists a day that drove through and parked in their neighborhoods to hike the wildly popular scenic Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai and beyond.
As a result, park visitors were limited to 900 per day.