Agreement reached to partially reopen popular road on Hawaii Island

Waipio Valley road has been closed to the general public since an emergency order was issued in February.
Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 9:05 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 2, 2022 at 10:12 PM HST
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WAIPIO VALLEY (HawaiiNewsNow) - An agreement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against Hawaii County that would allow for a partial reopening of the road leading into Waipio Valley.

The picturesque area on the Hamakua coastline has been a magnet for thousands of tourists, who would try to make their way up down Waipio Valley Road, a steep, one-lane roadway.

“It’s not that we’re denying anybody access, but over the years, through the internet, social media, the traffic has just gotten so bad on that hill,” said Waipio Valley resident Darde Gamayo.

But Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth issued an emergency proclamation in February, closing the road because of rockfall and erosion hazards.

The group Malama I Ke Kai o Waipio, which includes Native Hawaiians, sued the mayor and the county, claiming the closure was illegal because it stopped them from accessing the valley for spiritual and cultural practices.

“I think the biggest issue is that none of us felt that there was a new imminent threat that would have caused this emergency proclamation going into place,” said Roland Shackelford, the group’s president.

Malama I Ke Kai o Waipio said it reached an agreement with the county after going into mediation. It would allow four-wheel-drive access to Hawaii Island residents, and to Native Hawaiians regardless of residency.

It also would allow licensed tour operations to resume.

“That is what we were working on, trying to work with the tours because I’d rather see somebody that knows the road, driving the road,” said Gamayo.

The mayor’s office said it still has concerns over safety, and is still working on the specifics for reopening access.

“I think this is just an interim solution, and that a more permanent solution is needed to be put into place, “said Shackelford.

Even though the agreement has been reached, the road is still closed for now.

“I have seen some social media posts staying that ‘Waipio’s open, hey let’s go, it’s a long weekend,’” said Gamayo. “I don’t know what to say, you know what I mean? It’s not open yet.”

The mayor’s office said it will continue the discussion on reopening in the coming week, and can only say that any changes to the emergency rule will be made in what it called “a timely manner.”