Final environmental impact statement calls for permanent removal of famed Haiku Stairs

Final environmental impact statement calls for permanent removal of famed Haiku Stairs
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said last year that he intended for a city department to take possession of the Haiku Stairs, but no plans have been solidified, BWS officials said. (Source: Friends of Haiku Stairs)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Board of Water Supply appears ready to move forward with plans to remove the world-famous Haiku Stairs from the mountains above Kaneohe, according to an environmental impact statement released Friday by the Board of Water Supply.

“(The Board of Water Supply’s) objective is to eliminate liability associated with Ha‘iku Stairs and the on-going security costs that are passed on to water rate payers," a portion of the study reads.

At times in the past, the Board of Water Supply ― which owns and manages both the stairs and the land that they are constructed upon ― has expressed interested in transferring control of the property to another agency within the City and County of Honolulu, so that the stairs could reopen under the management of that agency.

And supporters of the trail have rallied publicly, urging Mayor Caldwell ― who said last year he wanted the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to take over the trail ― to do exactly that.

However: “...at the time of this Draft EIS, the City had not made any firm plans or commitments for such a transfer and therefore removal of (the stairs) remains BWS’ Proposed Action.”

Despite having been closed since 1991, officials believe an estimated 4,000 hikers access the stairs, more commonly known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ every year. Many Kaneohe residents say they are fed up with hikers trespassing through their properties to illegally climb the stairs for the breathtaking views.

“From early in the morning, I can see their flashlights coming from underneath the lower road and they’re sneaking up to bypass security and they trash the neighborhoods,” Kaneohe resident Harriet Thornley told Hawaii News Now last year.

The Board of Water Supply says it spends $250,000 per year on security in the area to try and keep hikers from trespassing. And other expenses, like the $24,000 removal of an illegally-installed swing at the top of the stairway in April 2016, are also passed on to rate-paying customers.

That money, officials said in the impact statement, is being poorly spent.

“The BWS’s mission is to provide Oahu residents with a safe, dependable, and affordable water supply," said Ernest Lau, the Board of Water Supply’s Chief Engineer. "Managing Haiku Stairs draws BWS staff, financial, and other resources away from our core mission to efficiently and effectively meet the water demand of our customers.”

It would cost just under $1 million to tear down the stairs, officials said last year.

The environmental impact statement did study several alternatives to removing the stairs, including the removal of only the first 1,000 feet of stairway, making the hiking of the path impossible.

Those alternatives, though, were deemed ill-advised, according to the draft EIS.

“If a solution for keeping Ha‘iku Stairs cannot be achieved, then BWS will have no choice but to remove Ha‘iku Stairs,” the statement reads.

This story will be updated.

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