The Hanakāpī’ai Bridge Project has been temporarily suspended due to disruption and interference with construction.
Disruption to the site occurred on Aug. 10. According to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, several individuals disrupted and interfered with construction in a manner that jeopardized their safety as well as the contractor and helicopter pilot, when they occupied the designated landing zone.
Additionally, DLNR reports that individuals have undone the work initiated on the bridge footings. During the initial work on one of the footings, a large pōhaku (stone) where a bridge footing will be located was significantly altered. This was a regrettable design error and is an acknowledged source of discontent.
“Due to the interference and potential compromising of the footing work, DSP (Division of State Parks) has halted the bridge work to provide an opportunity to discuss potential design changes,” DLNR states. “Our path forward will recognize impacts on natural landforms, including pōhaku, which have been scattered and deposited throughout the Hanakāpī’ai stream basin over millions of years of flooding and erosion.”
Absent understanding and agreement, further disruption will necessitate legal action, DLNR states.
Kaua‘i Fire Department requested DSP to pursue construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Hanakāpī’ai Stream within the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park in 2014 after a number of aerial rescue operations and the history of flood fatalities in the area.
“Dozens of people have drowned in the Hanakāpīʻai Valley over the years, and KFD personnel have numerous stories – myself included – on the precarious positions we put ourselves in whenever we perform rescues in this area,” stated Kaua‘i Fire Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas.
While the new management policy at Hā’ena State Park has successfully reduced daily visitor numbers (and increased the ratio of locals to visitors accessing the trail), and additional management measures installed for Hanakāpīʻai along with an increase in park staffing have also enhanced public safety, the hazard has not been eliminated.
DLNR states the Hanakāpī’ai Bridge Project is a well-vetted effort to create a modern safety feature integrated into a natural and cultural environment. The bridge is intended to safely remove people from Hanakāpī’ai during flash flooding episodes, not to bring more people there. Hanakāpī’ai stream is a frequent hazard due to the unique topography Hanakāpī’ai Valley, and the areas proximity to Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest places on Earth.
Fatalities have happened when hikers attempt to cross the stream during flooding and are swept away.
After the meeting with the fire department in 2014, DSP staff initiated a series of actions (funding, planning efforts, meetings, permitting) that readied the bridge project. Due to the 2018 flooding event, the project was put on hold in favor of addressing Hā’ena State Park flood repairs and master plan improvements. Then, on December 10, 2019, final bridge approval was granted at the Kauaʻi County SMA public hearing before the Kauaʻi Planning Commission. The project was strongly supported by the County, including testimony from the Mayorʻs Office and the Acting Fire Chief.
Bridge construction activities began in July 2020.
“The intent of the bridge is to provide a way out, when unforeseen circumstances leave unsuspecting and unprepared hikers stranded and feeling pressured to make unwise choices. Our obligation to protect the public and our personnel is in line with the concept of a foot bridge as a means to provide a safe path out of Nāpali,” Ornellas said. “As fellow residents and community members, we also understand the cultural sensitivities involved in such a project, and one of KFD’s principles is stewardship for the ‘aina. We hope that all stakeholders can find a successful resolution so that this project can continue in a manner that is respectful.”