Kauai residents from the island’s north shore formed a human chain this morning at Waipa, stopping tourists from entering the stretch of Kuhio Highway that forms the gateway to Ha‘ena State Park and other popular community natural resources and popular attractions.
Protesters said they let construction workers and residents through the highway but turned away about 50 tourists just after 5 a.m this morning. Kauai police arrived on the scene before 7 a.m. and forced the 20 or so protesters to reopen the road. However, protesters said they are still gathered there to send a message to the state and tourists that the region is not ready to receive visitors. So far, no one has been arrested.
Residents had gotten used to a nearly tourism-free existence since an April 14-15, 2018, storm produced approximately 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour period shuttering popular attractions, including the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Ha‘ena State Park, Kee Beach, Kalalau Trail, Haena Beach Park and Limahuli Garden & Preserve.
Many in the region clamored for the state to open the roadway and were disappointed by delays. However, others dreaded restored access and its potential to unleash a flood of tourists on a region that had been challenged to support them. The combined population of Kauai’s isolated north shore communities was only 749 in the 2010 census. Last year nearly 1.38 million tourists visited Kauai — up about 8% from 2017. The number of tourists visiting Ha‘ena State Park is an estimated 730,000 or more annually.
A 2-mile stretch of Kauai’s Kuhio Highway reopened Monday, restoring access to some of the Garden Isle’s most popular tourist attractions under new tourism management guidelines.
There was praise for the implementation of a new Ha‘ena State Park Master Plan, which limits visitation to 900 people a day from an estimated 3,000 daily before flooding closed the main artery in April 2018. But there were plenty of complaints about tourists driving fast, hogging one-lane bridges, parking illegally, walking on reefs and spraying reef-harming sunscreen.
Wainiha resident Kaiulani Mahuka said Monday’s reopening, which took place while construction bridgework was still continuing, put residents, visitors and the district’s natural resources in jeopardy. Mahuka said the roadway shouldn’t reopen until construction is complete and the region’s tourism management plans have been properly coordinated.
“They’ve turned our island into a cheap whore. They reopened for the tourists yesterday. People came speeding in. There wasn’t anyone to direct traffic. People were going by the hundreds to Lumahai Beach — it’s not safe, there’s no lifeguard. People were walking all over the reef and they left their rubbish everywhere.” Mahuka said.
The return of tourism and the reopening of vacation rentals also has displaced residents in the community, she said.
“Five people got notices yesterday. Where are they to go? We all work four and five jobs so we can live in our cars and tourists think they paid to get here so that entitles them to take over and do anything,” Mahuka said. “We’ve had it and today we’ve got the police here not serving and protecting, but harassing.”
Protester Ka‘imi Hermosura-Konohiki, who lives in Halele‘a, said the return of tourism to farthest Kauai’s north shore region turned the area into “another Waikiki.”
“They would rather accommodate tourists than listen to the resident’s concerns,” Hermosura-Konohiki said. “We’ve met with all of the agencies and government and they won’t listen — that’s why we are here today. We want them to close the community to tourists until the road work is done and plans are coordinated to receive them.”
Hermosura-Konohiki said residents, many who are still recovering from the flood, are upset that so far most of the recovery resources have gone into readying the district to receive tourists.
The state Department of Transportation, the county of Kauai and state tourism officials were not readily available to return calls to the Star-Advertiser. State Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison said the agency had expected a “few bumps” for the road reopening and would continue to address concerns.