First phase of Waipiʻo Valley Road work almost done; access will remain limited

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Roadwork to prevent rockfalls is being done on Waipi’o Valley Road. (Big Island Now/Megan Moseley)

The first part of a three-phase project to repair Waipiʻo Valley Road and make it safe from falling rock is nearing completion, but access will continued to be limited under Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth’s amended emergency proclamation.

The first phase — a $1.17-million “short-term safety improvements” project to contain unstable areas immediately upslope of the road — is expected to be completed the week of July 7, said Sherise Kanae-Kane with the Hawai’i County Department of Public Works.

“So far large trees have been trimmed or removed and rock scaling work has been completed along approximately 500 feet of the 750-foot project,” Kanae-Kane said.

There remains small brush removal, rock scaling and installation of erosion control measures needs to be completed, she said.


According to the Mayor’s proclamation, Waipi’o Valley Road is closed to pedestrians, uncovered vehicles (including ATV’s) and horses. But Waipiʻo Valley residents, permitted licensed/insured tour operators and Native Hawaiians claiming exercise of traditional and/or customary rights are exempt.

On Feb. 25, Roth issued his first emergency proclamation to close the road to pedestrians and most vehicles due to the finding of unsafe conditions by a geotechnical engineering evaluation.

Eight months after the proclamation, the county held a public meeting to unveil its plan to repair the steep and curvy 1.4-mile road and prevent rock falls.

The total cost of the estimated road repairs was slated at $6 million, although officials said at the meeting the work will likely cost more.


Plans for the more complex phases two and three have been pursued over the past few months. These phases include applying mesh and bolts to the side of the mountain, similar to a project on Kauai’s Ko Road, and adding rock wall fences.

In May, the county posted its completed biological and archeological surveys for the first phase of the project, which began May 22.

Phases 2 will be mitigation of safety hazards (some type of fencing) and possible widening of the road. Kanae-Kane said if widening requires more than the County right of way, this may start an Environmental Assessment.

The entire project is estimated to take three years.


The emergency proclamation sparked controversy amongst residents, while also opening the conversation up about how improving the road might cause more tourism-related issues. As a result, Roth created an advisory committee to address how to redirect tourism out of the valley in order to preserve Native Hawaiian traditional farming and cultural practices.

Waipiʻo Valley is a historic area, and is sometimes called “Valley of the Kings” in reference to the rulers who lived and frequented the area.

Prior to western contact, Waipiʻo Valley was home to thousands of Native Hawaiians, and was the most fertile and productive valley on the island. Some of those lineal descendents still reside there today.

The Mayor’s office has announced who is on the new Waipi’o Valley Committee. The committee includes: Keith Tallet, Alfredo Dela Rosa III, Darde Gamayo, Jim Caine, Lei Brown,  Kūlia Tolentino-Potter, ʻIʻini Kahakalau, Sherri Hannum, Gary Matsuo, Jodenella Alameda and representatives from the Mayor’s office, Hawai’i County Council, Bishop Museum, Kamehameha Schools,  State Nā Ala Hele Advisory Council, Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, and the Dept. of Public Works.

The Committee will meet on July 5 at 5 p.m. via Zoom to discuss varying issues and may provide suggested amendments to Roth..

The emergency proclamation is updated every two months. The next time it will be updated is July 12.

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University and Ohio University and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.
Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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