The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has proposed to remove Ha’iku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, citing liability risks and high security and maintenance costs. But the idea of dismantling the staircase has run into resistance from Mayor Kirk Caldwell who wants to save it.
The board's proposal to remove the stairs is detailed in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement published on Sunday. The board said the staircase has diverted resources from its main mission to ensure safe and dependable drinking water.
The board estimates that almost 4,000 people illegally use the hiking trail each year and about $250,000 has been spent to keep trespassers off the Kaneohe staircase, according to the environmental statement.
In comments on Monday, Caldwell said he wants the city Department of Parks and Recreation to maintain and provide access to the staircase.
“I have always wanted to preserve Haiku Stairs," said Caldwell. “But it's important to provide relief to the community around the entrance to the facility, and to ensure the experience is made safer for hikers and first responders.”
Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer for the Board of Water Supply, said the board was not initially aware of the city’s interest in saving the staircase, but has since been in touch with the mayor.
“The mayor has expressed interest in taking responsibility for the property and the stairs and we’ve tried to reflect that in the Draft EIS,” said Lau. “Initially, though, we did not have a commitment in the beginning. Within most recent times, he has expressed strong interest in trying to preserve the stairs.”
Caldwell said he has met with the Board of Water Supply several times to discuss how the city and the board can move forward. Before any progress can be made, the board must first complete the environmental impact process.
U.S. Navy personnel built the Ha’iku Stairs in 1942. The wooden structure was used to reach the U.S. Naval Radio Station, created for long-range U.S. military communications and Hawai’i defense systems during World War II.
The military station and the trail has been closed to the public since 1987, but hikers continue to use the 3,922-step staircase illegally.
Under the board’s proposed actions, removing the structure would be completed by the end of 2022. The estimated the cost of demolition, removal, and disposal amounts to $986,266, according to the environmental statement.
The board has investigated various ways to make the trail legally accessible.
“I think there’s a way to do this,” Caldwell said. “It’s a valuable asset. I think people should have access to all of our beaches as they should have access to mountains, and we’re going to work in that direction.”
The board will have representatives at the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board meeting on July 18 to brief residents on the draft environmental statement.
The public is also encouraged to fill out a form to comment on the board proposals contained in the draft statement. Comments will be taken online until Aug. 7. The public's comments can also be sent by email to email@example.com.