Several Big Island residents are speaking out against the county’s decision to reopen Waipi’o Valley Road to visitors.
Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth announced that the road will reopen on Monday at 9 a.m. Waipi’o Valley residents voiced their concerns about the decision at an online community meeting.
“I know you’re doing the best you can. A lot of this was put in your lap,” resident Jim Cain told the mayor at the meeting, according to Big Island Now. “You gotta listen to the Waipiʻo community. …It’s not a tourist or hiking destination and we have to start with that.”
Waipi’o Valley houses a unique mile-long black sand beach and is known for its taro farming community. The valley was popular for sightseeing and hiking. It’s also a sacred place for Native Hawaiian practices.
According to KWXX, the updated rules forbid pedestrians and uncovered vehicles on the road. Otherwise, access opens to all Hawaiʻi Island residents, county-permitted tour company operators and traditional Native Hawaiian practitioners. They are required to be in covered 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Since Feb. 25, the road had limited access due to engineers determining that the road had an unstable slope and possible rockfalls, according to Mayor Roth’s statement. Only Waipi’o Valley residents, farmers, property owners and government officials were allowed in the area.
Mayor Roth said in a press release issued before the community meeting: “Our administration has worked incredibly hard to ensure that we put the safety of our community at the forefront of all we do, and as such, have had to make some tough decisions, including closing the valley road to some of its most frequent patrons.”
The mayor further added that they have listened to the community and worked with experts to find the option that provides greater access while planning road repairs.
The county said to Big Island Now that by Oct. 5 it would start its road work improvement plan in phases.
The majority of testifiers agreed that reopening the road before any improvement work was reckless, according to Big Island Now. Some added that the large trees and shrubbery also created blind turns.
Resident Carl Sims III told Roth that his changes were “disrespecting our Waipiʻo community” by instead supporting non-locals.
“It’s really disrespectful you’re listening to the outside influence,” Sims said. “You better make the right decision, my friend.”
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