Aloha, below are the public comments the O‘ahu Group submitted in response to the Environmental Impact Statement Prep Notice (EISPN) in regards to the future of Haiku Stairs, or the “Stairway to Heaven”:
To: OEQC and G70
The Sierra Club O‘ahu Group is concerned about the Haiku Stairs being torn down. Here are our comments and questions.
1) The Haiku Stairs should be preserved. It is well-known and attracts both locals and visitors. It is unique — no other hiking trail on Oahu is remotely similar. There are fantastic views all along the way and the stairs have a long history. To quote a recent editorial by Vernon Ansdell and Jay Silberman, the stairs “have been determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, because of their integral role in the defense of the Pacific during WWII. Experts in botany and natural history have described the Stairs hike as unique in the Hawaiian islands, for several reasons. It would be an incalculable loss of an irreplaceable recreational, educational, historic and cultural resource.”
2) Managing the stairs has been done before with little or no difficulty. Again quoting Silberman — “Think about what was involved when the U.S. Coast Guard Omega Station did it in the 1980s: hikers parked in the parking lot next to the main building, filled out a sign-in sheet, and walked over to the Stairs. That’s it. The station and parking lot were open during the day, so no one had a reason to park on neighbors’ lawns and sneak up at night. During the six years that the Stairs were open, an estimated 20,000 people a year climbed it, with no supervision, and no impact on the neighbors.”
3) No one has been killed or seriously injured while hiking the stairs. This is an amazing record for a trail that has been drawing hikers for over three decades. People have been very careful because of the obvious danger if they fell off the stairs.
4) The City spent almost $800,000 fixing the stairs (and replacing the railings) over a decade ago. It has spent about $170,000 a year for the past several years to post guards at the gate near the end of Haiku Road. All of this money should go to making the stairs available to the public! And if the stairs are torn down, it will cost the city almost 3 million dollars. This money could be used to create a hiking trail that would draw tens of thousands of people a year without annoying the residents who live near the trailhead.
5) If the City won’t maintain the stairs, perhaps another government agency will. DLNR comes to mind. They have a lot of experience in managing trails (think Na Ala Hele). The stairs lead up to the Koolau Summit Trail (KST) and could be part of an all-day hiking experience unlike any other in the state. Up the stairs, along the KST, down Middle Ridge and out along the Kamananui Valley road would be an unparalleled recreational experience.
Another possibility: again quoting Ansdell and Silberman, “If BWS can’t be troubled to manage the Stairs, hire a contractor to do it, and collect entrance fees to cover all operating, maintenance, security and management costs, as well as all potential liability. The state collects hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from entrance fees to Diamond Head State Monument.”
6) The concerns the City has expressed about liability are overblown (again, no deaths or serious injuries in over 3 decades of hiking by everyone from first time hikers to experienced mountaineers). Liability should not be the primary consideration in deciding whether to preserve the stairs or not. The State’s experience with Diamond Head State Park and Manoa Falls Trail (the two most hiked trails on Oahu) should put to rest any concerns that the City has.
7) Oahu’s trails are being inundated by an unprecedented number of hikers. We had almost 9,000,000 visitors to the state in 2016. The situations at Maunawili Falls Trail and Kuliouou Ridge Trail and Mariner’s Ridge indicate that we need more, not fewer, popular trails. Haiku Stairs could be an attraction that helps alleviate the foot traffic on our most popular trails, thus taking some of the pressure off a resource that was not made to handle so many people.
1) Have other governmental agencies (besides the Board of Water Supply) been asked about their interest in “taking over” the stairs?
2) Have non-profits been asked about their interest in managing the stairs (for example, the Friends of Haiku Stairs)?
3) Has anyone from the City hiked similar trails in other states or foreign countries? Have they seen how those states and countries managed that recreational resource?
4) Has the City made an offer to Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to swap land that can be used for housing for the land that DHHL owns in Haiku Valley (courtesy of the US government when Coast Guard Omega Station closed down) and which is unsuitable for housing?
5) Has the City considered selling the stairs to a third party (such as Trust for Public Land) which would transfer the stairs to another government entity or non-profit or public-private partnership (PPP)?
6) Has the City considered reviving the Coast Guard method from the 80’s — i.e. renovating the parking lot and main building of the former Coast Guard facility to allow hikers to park there so that neighbors would not be inconvenienced?
7) Has the City considered using the Diamond Head State Park model — charging for parking ($5 per vehicle) or walking in ($1)? These monies could be used exclusively to maintain the stairs and provide a great visitor experience.
8) There is a serious shortage of funding to protect and maintain our natural resources. With almost 9,000,000 visitors last year, DLNR needs more resources just to maintain, much less improve, the visitor experience. This doesn’t even count the number of locals who also use the resource base. Has the City considered turning the stairs over to the State to use as a revenue source (similar to Diamond Head)?
9) Has the City considered convening a meeting of interested parties in resolving this situation? Representatives from the Board of Water Supply, DHHL, DLNR, the Friends of Haiku Stairs, Sierra Club, Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, Trust for Public Land, City attorneys, State attorneys should sit down and talk to each other about possible solutions. This would cost very little and some innovative ideas might come out of this get-together. It is worth a try. The Haiku Stairs is a unique resource and definitely worth saving.
The Sierra Club looks forward to your response. And mahalo for this opportunity to share our mana’o with you.
Sierra Club O‘ahu Group