Tear it down or reopen it? A new evaluation outlines options for the Haiku Stairs

Tear it down or reopen it? A new evaluation outlines options for the Haiku Stairs
Mayor Kirk Caldwell intends for a city department to take possession of the Haiku Stairs and explore possible private proposals to manage access. (Source: Friends of Haiku Stairs)

KANEOHE, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is offering hope to hikers looking for a legal way to enjoy the scenic — and currently off-limits — Haiku Stairs.

He said his intent is for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation to take over the stairs, and to explore potential private proposals to manage access.

“I have always wanted to preserve Haiku Stairs, but it’s important to provide relief to the community around the entrance to the facility, and to ensure the experience is made safer for hikers and first responders,” said Caldwell in a statement.

The mayor is also urging community members to weigh in on a new draft environmental impact statement released Sunday.

The Board of Water Supply and a consultant spent more than two years working on the lengthy document to evaluate the agency’s proposal to get rid of the so-called ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

The BWS spends about $250,000 of water ratepayer revenues each year to deter trespassers, but it's estimated that nearly 4,000 people illegally access the stairs annually.

"Operating the stairs creates a responsibility to the impacted communities, and also liability to the board, to our ratepayers, our water customers, so it's really not consistent with our mission," explained Ernest Lau, BWS chief engineer and manager.

The removal of the Haiku Stairs and the Moanalua Saddle Stairs could be done by mid-2022, with an estimated cost of roughly $986,000, according to the new evaluation.

The document also looked at alternatives, including transferring the stairs to another agency.

In fact, based on project objectives, conveying the parcel scored higher than the BWS proposal to tear down the stairs.

"That's interesting. It is what it is, how it came out. We tried to be very objective in our analysis," said Lau.

In 2002, the city refurbished the stairs with the intent of reopening it for public use. The City Council, however, didn't approve the property transfer to the parks and recreation department.

"Something needs to be done, clearly, and I think managed access is the obvious solution," said Vernon Ansdell, president of Friends of Haiku Stairs. "It will address all the issues that have come up over the years.

According to the draft environmental impact statement, Pookela Street near Anchor Church is the best choice for an access route.

The church declined to comment on the evaluation.

The Board of Water Supply will conduct a presentation at the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board meeting on July 18 at 7 p.m. at Benjamin Parker Elementary School.

The public will also be able to submit comments in writing or through a comment portal for this project. Comments are due by Aug. 7, 2019.

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