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Mayor Mitch Roth on balancing public access, safety and conservation in Waipiʻo Valley

Waipio Valley, Honokaa
Bob Linsdell
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Wikimedia Commons
Waipiʻo Valley on Hawaiʻi Island in 2014

The County of Hawaiʻi is working to address public safety concerns on Waipiʻo Valley’s notoriously steep road. The decision to close the road last spring touched off a heated community discussion about who should have access to the valley.

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth amended his original emergency proclamation to allow Hawaiʻi Island residents traveling in 4-wheel drive vehicles, as well as county-sanctioned tours, back into the valley.

The citizen group Mālama i ke Kai ʻo Waipiʻo, which sued the county to have access to the valley restored for all residents, considered the decision a win.

But supporters of a second group, Protect Waipiʻo Valley, are asking visitors and residents alike to hold off while the road is accessed and the valley's natural resources have time to rest.

The Conversation spoke with Mayor Mitch Roth about balancing the different community interests, as well as the county’s timeline for road repairs.

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Mayor Mitch Roth
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Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth (Sept. 27, 2022)

"The community feels that the valley is primarily privately owned. And so when you go down to the valley today, I know that the residents have put up a gate on private property that prevents people from driving out to the ocean. According to the residents, there's very little places to park, actually there's no place to park, according to them," he told The Conversation. "We are looking at the road as a safety issue. They're looking at the road as a kind of driveway into their homes. And so the surfers look at this as a ocean access and a way to get down to the ocean."

"The point that I'm making to the community is we're going to fix the road. But once we fix the road, there's still going to be this tension unless we start meeting together, having these conversations to figure out where we go in the future," Roth said.

The county Department of Public Works is investigating what it will take to repair the road, Roth said.

"I don't want to over promise and under deliver. We do know that they've recommended fixing the road in three phases. My direction to public works is we want to get this done as quickly as possible. We want to make the road safe to the community as soon as we can," Roth added.

There will be a community meeting for those interested at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 at the Honokaʻa Gym.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 5, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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