Waipio Valley residents block entry road amid calls for ‘responsible tourism’

Your top local headlines for Monday, Sept. 19.
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 9:00 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 19, 2022 at 11:31 AM HST
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WAIPIO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents are blocking the only road into Waipio Valley on Hawaii Island to protest new emergency rules aimed at increasing access to the picturesque area of the Hamakua coastline.

The valley has been a magnet for thousands of tourists. But the only way to get in is a steep, one-lane roadway.

Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth issued an emergency proclamation in February that close the road because of rockfall and erosion hazards. A few months later, a group called Malama I Ke Kai o Waipio sued the mayor, arguing that his decision was based on a report that exaggerated the risks of the road.

Last week, Roth announced updated rules that allow Hawaii Island residents, permitted tour companies and cultural practitioners to access the road in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Now, a group called Protect Waipio Valley is blocking the road, saying it essentially reopens the road to commercial tour operators.

“We are not against tourism, we just need responsible tourism,” said Darde Gamayo, of Protect Waipio Valley.

“We need people to come here and understand, you’re coming into our neighborhood, our yards, the county road only goes so far. After that, the county owns no land in Waipio Valley. The county only owns the road. That is it.”

Gamayo added, “We don’t not want to share it, but we need to be responsible and we need to protect our wahi pana.”

“If additional information was able to be given to community, how you drive the road, how you should act in Waipio, where you need to malama, where needs help, go kokua, those types of things.” said Heather Nahaku Kalei, of Malama I Ke Kai O Waipio.

“Our kupuna are asking the tours to halt their operations until there is a resolution,” said Kahealani Kaaihili, who was at the blockade on Monday.

County officials say the new rules were decided in mediation with input from a judge.

“We’ve allowed tour companies as well because it would be discriminatory to not,” said Hawaii County Public Information Officer Cyrus Johnasen.

Officials are planning to hold another public meeting on this issue in early October.

“We continue to listen to the community and we want everyone’s voice to be heard on this matter. It’s a very sensitive subject on both sides and really just hoping to find an amicable solution that gets us forward and helps us rebuild the trust in the community,” Johnasen added.

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