Maui’s mayor urges Gov. Ige to delay reopening Hana Highway

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Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 6:01 PM HST
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MAUI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui County’s mayor sent a letter to Governor David Ige on Monday, urging him to delay the full reopening of the road to Hana for at least two weeks.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation recently announced that all drivers will be able to access Hana Highway to East Maui starting on July 1.

Right now, only residents are permitted to use the road.

There are checkpoints set up near Nahiku Falls in Haiku and at Ulupalakua Ranch along Piilani Highway.

During a virtual community meeting on Sunday, many residents expressed concerns that reopening Hana Highway would provide a path for the coronavirus to enter the remote region.

"There is no 24-hour medical facility available to the people that live there. They're very limited even with the doctors and nurses that live out there. Most of them are part-time," said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino.

Businesses that depend on tourism, however, have been anxiously waiting for visitors to be allowed back in.

Sales at Hasegawa General Store are down by as much as 30%.

"It's a really complicated situation," said general manager Neil Hasegawa. "I think the main thing is the balance between commerce and the well-being."

Access has been restricted since mid-March, while the state tackled emergency repairs that have been wrapped up for now.

"(It's) very difficult for us to shut down a route because it's a public accessway, and it could impact future funding from the Federal Highways Administration," explained Ed Sniffen, HDOT's deputy director for highways.

State lawmakers are now trying to develop a reservation and management system to control visitor traffic in East Maui.

"I want to make sure that we have as many of the safeguards as we can in place before we reopen. Personally, I don't want to see it open," said State Sen. J. Kalani English (D-East Maui, Molokai, Lanai).

Hana Farms had to lay off 11 employees until it received Paycheck Protection Program funds.

The roadside business, which sells meals and serves as a marketplace for local products, has cut its prices and reduced its hours.

“We do care about Hana and the spread of COVID,” said co-owner Martin Vasey. “Just because I want the road open doesn’t mean that I don’t take the threat seriously, and that I wouldn’t want it closed again in a heartbeat if the numbers start going up.”

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