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Amid rising costs to remove Haiku Stairs, advocates renew push to keep trail

The Honolulu City Council has given preliminary approval for money to dismantle the Haiku Stairs in Windward Oahu.
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 8:44 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 13, 2022 at 10:24 PM HST
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KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council has given preliminary approval for money to dismantle the Haiku Stairs in Windward Oahu.

But those who want to keep the so-called “Stairway to Heaven” contend that a new managed access plan would be cheaper — and a lot safer.

“They appropriated a million, they put it in the wrong place, the wrong budget, and now they’ve come back to try to fix that and the prices has gone up to $1.3 million, 30% more,” said Sean Pager, president of the Friends of Haiku Stairs.

Pager believes the demolition costs are only going to keep rising far above the initial allocation in the current budget proposal.

“We did talk to some experts and got some prices, so we can pencil some of that out. We think the costs are in the multi-million dollars,” said Pager.

Pager said the costs would include protecting endangered animals that could be threatened by the removal work. Then there’s the difficulty of dismantling an 80 year-old metal stairway along the steep ridge up the Koolau range.

“It is possible,” said Ian Robertson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Obviously, it’s more difficult than working a ground level or on a building.”

“It would also require helicopters to take the pieces away, and so they would probably separate the stairs into sections that can be taken safely by helicopter, one at a time,” Robertson added.

“The fact that some of it will be attached to the rock will make it more difficult,” he said, adding that crews would use acetylene blowtorches to cut through the metal. Any remaining metal in the rock could be left to corrode in places that could effect the environment.

But the higher costs are still a red flag to Friends of Haiku Stairs.

“We think this is a bit of a wake-up sign that shows the city really hasn’t done its homework,” said Pager.

Friends of Haiku Stairs said city leaders would be wise to strike a deal, like they did with the Kokonut Coalition, which now repairs and maintains the Koko Crater stairs.

The Windward nonprofit said it’s working on a new management plan to keep hikers out of nearby neighborhoods, and is talking to more residents, Native Hawaiians and other groups. Pager said the plan includes zero costs and zero liability for the city.

“The taxpayers are fed up with the city rushing into these poorly planned public works projects that lead to spiraling out-of-control costs,” he said.

In response, a spokesperson said the city has not changed its position to remove the stairs, and will have a firm date on the removal process, based on the results of a planning study.

The appropriation goes to the council’s budget committee next week.

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