Loss of Ka‘ahakini Stream Bridge Concerns Hakalau Residents

November 13, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated November 13, 2020, 7:02 AM)
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Approach to Kanna Road Bridge. (PC: Bettie Vanoverbeke)

Some Hakalau residents worry they could be cut off from emergency responders with two local bridges out of service and another unable to support the weight of a fire truck.

The Department of Public Works is now looking at ways to strengthen the Kanna Road Bridge following the recent shutdown of Ka‘ahakini Stream Bridge, which is now the only way for residents living on Kaiwiki Homestead and Kanna Roads to access their homes and farms.

Ka‘ahakini Bridge, located between Highway 19 and Old Māmalahoa Highway, was shut down on Oct. 30 after an inspection by the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation revealed erosion and scour around the abutment, creating an imminent threat of collapse.

The potential loss of Kanna Road Bridge, a 100-year-old wooden structure, would impact approximately 100 people.

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Access Concerns on Kanna Road Bridge

“This new bridge closure totally cuts off that access point, so we only have Kanna Road, which definitely and significantly limits our capabilities,” stated Assistant Hawai‘i Fire Chief Darwin Okinaka in an email to Big Island Now.

Okinaka said the department is working with DPW and awaiting an update of the actual maximum capacity of the Kanna Road Bridge, which currently listed at six tons. As of now, however, Okinaka said crews would only be able to utilize a smaller apparatus, like a pickup truck for brush fires if there was a situation in that area of Hakalau.

“These vehicles only carry a minimal amount of water, mainly used for wildland firefighting,” Okinaka explained. “So we are not able to provide much fire suppression support.”

Quick response vehicles and ambulances are still able to access the community as they meet the weight limitations for the bridge.

Residents Express Frustration

Hakalau resident Tom Burton said Ka‘ahakini is the second bridge they’ve lost access to as the Kolekole Bridge closed after it was damaged during Hurricane Lane in 2018.

“They’ll be out at least a year, probably two years,” Burton estimated of Kolekole and Ka‘ahakini. “So what do we do?”

Since the other bridges are closed and in need of repair, Burton said, the county needs to focus on cost-effective ways to make Kanna Road Bridge safe.

“If we can get it to 10 tons (capacity), it wouldn’t be great, but it’d be workable,” Burton explained.

Two issues that need to be addressed urgently, Burton said, are improving the safety of Kanna Road Bridge and the county committing to maintaining access on the south side of the structure. The gravel road leading up to the single-lane bridge is also a single lane, with few places to pull over safely, which Burton believes will be an issue. He suggested a temporary signal system would help with that problem.

Burton added the community also needs to take responsibility for protecting its one open bridge. Currently, Burton said, there can be no delivery trucks for gravel or concrete crossing Kanna Road Bridge.

“All it takes is one selfish or thoughtless act to break that bridge,” Burton said. “We all need to understand this is serious.”

Such restrictions are particularly frustrating for Hakalau resident Bettie Vanoverbeke, 73, who was hoping to build a home on her farm.

Vanoverbeke said she’s registered several complaints regarding the bridges in Hakalau. The road leading up to Kanna Road Bridge, she explained, is all gravel and she skids even on good days.

“At my age, if I have to wait years, I’m not going to get a house here,” Vanoverbeke said.

Vanoverbeke bought her farm in Hakalau in 2014. While her home is in Puna, she stays at the farm most of the week to take care of her cows and horses.

The 73-year-old explained she has no running water or electricity. She brought up an emergency supply of food just in case the bridge is shut down and she gets stranded.

Plans for Repairs

The Department of Public Works’ Bridge Section is currently evaluating how best to install temporary shoring to increase the posted vehicular weight limit on Kanna Road Bridge. The only vehicles that can safely cross Kanna Road Bridge weigh six tons or less.

Additionally, DPW evaluated the feasibility of installing asphalt pavement for the portion of Kanna Road that is gravel, which includes the approach to the bridge. Officials reported the road is currently safe for passage within the posted speed limits.

DPW is also discussing repairs to Kolekole Stream Bridge. The county is currently working with an engineering firm in that capacity. The project will be expedited as soon as the consultant contract is executed, DPW said. Repairs will be partially funded by FEMA.

Ka‘ahakini is closed indefinitely at this time. County officials say a preliminary evaluation of repairs to the structure indicated fixing it would be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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