Tensions remain high over ocean access at Waipio Valley

While some access has been allowed, residents have resisted.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 9:19 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 5:07 AM HST

WAIPIO VALLEY (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ten days after the mayor reopened Waipio Valley Road on a limited basis, no one seems to be happy about how it’s working.

A group that sued to reopen the road to Waipio Valley has planned what it calls a peaceful gathering to support ocean access — which they say they are still not getting, even after an agreement was reached with Hawaii County.

That’s because a group of Waipio Valley residents has been operating what it calls a “kupuna checkpoint” at the top of the roadway, keeping most visitors out of the picturesque valley on Hawaii Island’s Hamakua coast.

“We’re not hostile, we’re not protesting. We’re protecting Waipio, the place that we love and that obviously you love,” said resident Darde Gamayo of the Protect Waipio Valley Ohana. “That’s why you’re coming. That’s why you’re upset because you can’t go there.”

The county closed the road in February because of rockfall and erosion hazards. The group Malama I Ke Kai O Waipio sued the mayor, claiming the closure was illegal because it stopped people from accessing the valley for spiritual and cultural practices.

But there’s also the issue of ocean access.

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“It’s surfers, it’s divers, it’s fishermen, it’s mothers playing with their babies,” said Malama I Ke Kai member Sheri Salmon. “It’s vital for our health.”

“We as ocean people are feeling not heard,” said Nahaku Kalei, another group member. “Many other people in our community feel like that.”

The county allowed Hawaii Island residents, cultural practitioners and permitted tour companies to use the road to get into Waipio Valley. But residents have resisted, saying the road closure allowed the valley to rest and reset.

“The fish are coming back. The beach looks beautiful. There’s no rubbish. It’s clean,” said Gamayo.

Residents have been trying to keep it that way, manning a tent at the roadway entrance in what some consider to be a 24/7 blockade.

They’ll have company Saturday morning, when Malama I Ke Kai has called for a peaceful gathering of people who support access to the ocean.

“It’s just a time to be able for us to come together, to come together as ocean people, to come together in all of the different ways that we interact with Waipio,” said Kalei.

Residents say that access will happen, but perhaps not right away. They plan to keep the kupuna checkpoint going through October.

“We don’t not want to share it,” said Gamayo. “So as far as how long — I don’t know.”

The gathering is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Waipio Valley lookout. The group asked participants to wear blue.

Gamayo said residents also plan to be there — and also will be wearing blue.

Next Wednesday, a court hearing over the mayor’s order is scheduled, while residents are also scheduled to meet with the mayor.