Hawaiʻi County Opening Waipiʻo Valley Road To 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles
Beginning Sept. 19, all Big Island residents, county-permitted tour company operators and those seeking to practice their Native Hawaiian traditional or customary rights can travel down the steep, crumbling road in beautiful and sacred Waipiʻo Valley — but only if their vehicle has 4-wheel drive.
Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth today updated the emergency rules he signed on Feb. 25 that severely limited access to use the road while the County worked on fixing its problems. County engineers found that there was an imminent risk of rockfalls and slope instability along the road to the popular black sand beach.
The steep road is only 1.5 miles long but has a 45% grade in some locations.
The updated access rules only pertain to the County roadway and do not permit access to private property. They also still forbid pedestrians, uncovered vehicles, including but not limited to ATVs, and horseback access. In addition, vehicles and passengers still must abide by existing traffic laws as outlined in the emergency rules. Significant weather events and construction may further limit access.
In April, community group Malama I Ke Kaio Waipiʻo, which includes Native Hawaiians, sued the County, claiming the road closure was illegal because it blocked their access for spiritual and customary practices in the valley.
Mayor Roth said in a press release today: “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.
“That said, we have listened to the community, considered comments of the judge in litigation, and worked closely with the Department of Public works and experts to explore options that would provide greater access while we plan and implement road repairs.”
Roth said those who choose to use the roadway should do so with extreme caution and vigilance.
A virtual community meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 2 p.m. via Zoom to discuss the updated rules and hear from community members. Interested residents may access the meeting using the following link: https://www.zoomgov.com/j/1616553524?pwd=cGFYbjFUVkJEWHBSMDMvVzlKdmlMQT09
The Office of the Mayor will begin issuing permits to licensed tour operators beginning on Sept. 19.