Protests continue against Wailua Beach bike path

News Report
Joan Conrow

KAUAʻI—Residents continue to protest proposed plans to place a bike path on Kauaʻi’s Wailua Beach.

They’ve regularly been holding signs on Kūhiō Highway, fronting Wailua Beach, when the morning and pau hana traffic is heaviest in an attempt to make both motorists and Mayor Bernard Carvalho aware of their opposition to the plan.

Judy Dalton of the Sierra Club said the sign holders “have been drawing a lot of positive responses with people waving and enthusiastically honking.” On Tuesday afternoon, she said, “Several drivers spontaneously engaged in a symphony of honking that lasted several minutes when there was a long stop light. It was a blast.”

Jim Alalem, a kahu, or caretaker, for the heiau that line the Wailua River, was standing on the Wailua bridge one recent morning holding a sign that read: “Sacred sands.”

He is among a number of cultural practitioners who have opposed placing a boardwalk on Wailua Beach as part of a coastal recreational path that is proposed to run from Nāwiliwili to Anahola. Some portions of the path have already been completed.

The next phase seeks to link the path at Lydgate Park with the section that runs from the Kapaʻa small boat harbor to just north of Keālia. A boardwalk is proposed for Wailua Beach as part of that project.

Many Native Hawaiians have expressed concern about both building on what they consider sacred sands and the risk of damaging burials when larger augers drill into the sand in order to stake down the boardwalk. The State Historic Preservation Division has not required a full archaeological inventory survey of the beach route, but said monitors would be on site during the drilling.

Conservationists, meanwhile, have also raised objections to developing the beach itself, which they say could set a precedent, and hardening the shoreline through construction of the concrete path.

Proponents, however, say the path should be kept along the coast and moving the path mauka would increase the risk of encountering burials, while also pushing up the price of the project.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which previously had supported the beach route, citing concerns about burials that could be encountered if the path runs behind the still-shuttered Coco Palms resort, later reversed its stand and has come out solidly against the beach route. The reversal was attributed to a greater awareness of the cultural significance of the Wailua Beach area.

“Much has occurred in the Native Hawaiian community with regards to the understanding of the significant relationship of the various components of the traditional cultural landscape of the ancestors,” OHA administrator Clyde Namuo wrote in a September 8 letter to the Federal Highway Administration, which is funding the project.

“The connections to the past, and thus the direction for the future, are being made everyday as the pieces of the past are lovingly, gingerly and humbly put back together in a race against time and irreparable loss from destruction and alteration.”

Despite OHA’s reservations, Kauaʻi Mayor Bernard Carvalho recently announced that he favored the beach route, prompting an outcry from numerous residents. In response, Carvalho held a public information meeting on that phase of the path earlier this month, where he listened to some four hours of testimony, both for and against the beach route.

Carvalho told those attending the meeting that he was open to gathering more information, but couldn’t promise that he would change his mind.

The mayor has made no announcement about any changes, but state, county and federal officials met recently to discuss various alternative routes. These include routing the path behind Coco Palms on an existing road that follows a canal or also running it alongside Kūhiō Highway, as is planned for the section of the path that borders the Wailua Golf Course.