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0 Deaths

0 Liability

80 Years

Questions and Answers

The Haʻikū Stairs are often represented in the media as dangerous, a liability to the City, and as the cause of numerous rescues. None of theses representations are accurate. Part of our current mission involves counter-acting these mis-representations with facts. You can help us by becoming a Social Media Stairs Supporter. When you come across posts, articles, or social media stories that misrepresent the Stairs, please respond as respectfully as you can and with truth at the core of your messaging. Please hashtag your posts using #savehaikustairs and #friendsofhaikustairs so that we can track our progress. Following are the most frequent comments and some sample responses. Scroll down to see comments and responses by theme.

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Top Comments and Responses

The following are actual statements posted on social media that we have responded to in the past. Please feel free to borrow from our responses when crafting your own response. 

Are the Haʻikū Stairs dangerous?

The Haʻikū Stairs are the safest way to climb to the peak of Puʻu Keahiakahoe. There have been 0 deaths or serious injuries from a fall and 0 lawsuits in the 80-year history of the Haʻikū Stairs.

"Residents suffer from trespassing."

Removing the Haʻikū Stairs will not prevent hikers from trespassing nor from climbing to the peak of Puʻu Keahiakahoe. The City’s proposed removal will only eliminate the safest way to the summit.

"The Haʻikū Stairs were never intended for public use."

While the Haʻikū Stairs were built in 1942 to access a wartime telecommunications system, the City spent almost $1m fixing them up in 2001 to make them safe for public recreational use.

"The Stairs are a liability for the State."

The City admitted in recent hearings that they have never been sued for an accident or injury on the Haʻikū Stairs in the historic structure's entire 80 year history.

"I thought it was decided already?" 

The City took action under the 2019 FEIS by transferring the Stairs to the City Parks & Recreation Department. Any new action (such as removal) legally requires a new and/or supplemental EIS.

"Who wants to keep the Stairs anyway?"

More than 90% of the 5000+ public comments submitted during public hearings in 2020 were in support of keeping Stairs. Read it for yourselves here: www.boardofwatersupply.com/haikustairs.

#savehaikustairs

#friendsofhaikustairs

#managedaccess

"The Stairs are in a residential neighborhood."

The Stairs are on empty public land and are surrounded on all sides by empty publicly owned lands. There are available roads that bypass residential neighborhoods and would facilitate public access.

"The Friends just want the money from tourists.

The Friends of Haʻikū Stairs advocate that profits from managed access be allocated to workgroups and community organizations that restore the ʻāina in Haʻikū Valley. The Friends have been an all-volunteer non-profit organization since 1987.

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#savehaikustairs

#friendsofhaikustairs

#managedaccess

Hawaiian Cultural Context

"I thought it goes through sacred spiritual Land and the Hawaiians don't want anybody there."

It is true that the highest peaks and uninhabited areas of the mountains were generally considered wao akua or realm of the spirits under the kapu system. The kapu system forbade many things including the ability of men and women to eat the same foods at the same table (ʻai kapu). It was publicly abolished in 1819 by the young Liloliho, son of Kamehameha I, at the behest of high-ranking aliʻi such as Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani. Today, there is nothing about the land around the Stairs that makes it different from any other high summit hiking trail on Oʻahu.

"So basically the pure existence of the Stairs is a reminder for some native Hawaiians about the current illegal occupation of Hawai’i."

You are right. Much of the ahupuaʻa of Heʻeia, from mauka to makai has been negatively impacted by military occupation or is still under military occupation. An 1851 map detailing the post-māhele lands overseen by Abner Pākī show five kalo loʻi in the ili of Haʻikū that no longer exist. Heiau that existed in the valley were bulldozed during the building of the 1942 telecommunications complex. Jet fuel and gasoline containing PCBs were used to defoliate Haʻikū Valley between 1973 and 1983. The Friends of Haʻikū Stairs advocate that profits from managed access be allocated to workgroups and community organizations that restore the ʻāina in Haʻikū Valley.

"Aren't Hawaiians against the Stairs?"

While it's true that the US Navy displaced people during occupation of the valley, some Native Hawaiians have come to value the Stairs as a cultural and recreational resource. Cultural practitioners use the Stairs to reach native plants for gathering and educational purposes. A 2022 poll showed that a majority of Native Hawaiians favored preserving the Stairs under managed access.

"The Haʻikū Stairs are for tourists."

Most hikers who climbed the Stairs during the Coast Guard years when public access was legal were Hawai‘i residents—not tourists. Controlled public opinion polls today show a majority of O‘ahu residents want to save the Stairs. A broad array of community organizations support saving the Stairs, including the Sierra Club, the Hawaiʻi Trail and Mountain Club, the Engineers and Architects of Hawaiʻi, and the Koʻolau Foundation.

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#savehaikustairs

#friendsofhaikustairs

#managedaccess

Managed Access

"Managed access won't work." 

Managed access does work. It already works at Hanauma Bay and at Lēʻahi (Diamond Head). Managed access to the Haʻikū Stairs would generate revenues to cover costs and would provide access to the Stairs away from the neighborhood.

"The Stairs cause trespassing." 

People will trespass to get to the peak unless there is a legal alternative. Managed access is the only way to stop trespassing and to manage the demand from hikers responsibly. 

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There is a community-driven process that would establish safe, environmentally sustainable, and culturally respectful access. A neighborhood board task force is already making strides to address community concerns. The Friends of Haʻikū Stairs have shared detailed managed access plans that build on these community efforts. 

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Then Mayor Caldwell stated: “We know with the right operator, Ha‘ikū Stairs can be opened safely, preserving this unique experience and cultural resource.”

Trespassing is the result of the government closing legal access to a world-class, outdoor experience. There was little or no trespassing during the Coast Guard era when the Stairs were open. Trespassing only became a problem when the Omega Station closed, and legal access to the Stairs ceased. Legal public access to the Stairs would remove the primary impetus for trespassing and pay for 24/7 security that would end unauthorized access once and for all. How does the City plan to fund security to stop people trespassing, particularly if they are only partially removed?

Budgetary & Legal

"The Stairs are too expensive to keep."

Removal will be far costlier whereas the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs would manage access to the Stairs at no cost to the taxpayer.

 

"Why does the price keep going up?"

Removal was estimated to cost $1 million in 2021; it went up to $1.3 million last year. The latest projected cost in the Site Plan Permit that DDC submitted to OCCL is now $4.28 million. 

"Removing the Stairs will be another Rail Budget Fiasco."

It's true that the City has failed so far to provide a fully detailed project budget so that taxpayers can see exactly what is covered in their multi-million dollar removal plans.

"Can't they be saved as historic?" 

The Stairs are a historic monument, built in 1942 through a combination of personal heroism and intrepid engineering. They made possible a communication breakthrough that contributed directly to winning the War in the Pacific. Either alone or together with other historic sites in Haʻikū Valley, the Stairs could easily qualify as a National Historical Monument or World Heritage Site. 

 

The 2019 FEIS completed by the Board of Water Supply (BWS) was, by its own terms, a limited scope document focused on identifying options to eliminate the BWS liability. The present landowner, the City Parks & Recreation Department, has a very different mission than BWS, one that is far more compatible with reopening the Stairs. City Parks also prioritize the preservation of Hawaii’s cultural and historical heritage. Why would City Parks not want to save the Stairs?


 

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Environmental Questions

  • I am concerned that the City has not done enough planning to protect the environment from the destructive impact of removal.  The Stairs are deeply buried in dirt and vegetation and are going to have to be dug out.  What’s to stop all that exposed dirt from sliding down the ridge, or washing away next time it rains?  How will you protect the downstream watershed and Kāneʻohe Bay from being harmed?  Are funds for erosion control included in the removal budget and can those details be made public?

  • The Board of Water Supply plans called for revegetation of Haʻikū Ridge with native plants to stop erosion and restore the native forest. Is the administration committed to revegetation after removal?  And if they don’t revegetate, how are they planning to stop the downstream watershed from being polluted by massive erosive soil runoff? 

  • The Friends of Haʻikū Stairs used to perform maintenance on the Stairs for decades, removing invasive species and hauling out trash. Since that work has stopped, the invasive species have spread rapidly, crowding out rare, endangered native plants. Will you commit to allowing botanists a chance to check on previously identified sites of federally protected plants adjacent to the Stairs?

  • Past environmental studies have identified numerous challenges, risks, and legal obstacles that the City has not even begun to address. An updated environmental study is required. Impacts on endangered species need to be assessed and a mitigation plan developed. Moreover, removing an 80-year- old structure off a fragile unstable ridge-line will have destabilizing effects. Invasive species will propagate in the denuded hillside, crowding out native plants, and soil runoff from erosive collapses will threaten the downstream watershed.

  • The land on which the Stairs sit has been designated as Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The FEIS avoided discussion of this topic by claiming that the Stairs themselves were not technically included as Critical Habitat. Yet, this ignores the likely impacts of removal on the surrounding habitat, which is protected. Multiple critically endangered native species (both flora and fauna) are known to inhabit the Stairs vicinity. Some of these, such as the flowering trematolobellia singularis and achatinella tree snails, are found nowhere else on earth. How do you plan to protect the adjacent federally protected native species when the removal work is done?

  • The 2019 FEIS omitted a biological assessment and mitigation plan, the completion of which it acknowledged that would be required to proceed with removal. The FEIS also failed to address the impacts of removal on federally protected critical habitat. In addition, the FEIS left unspecified critical measures to control erosion and prevent massive soil runoff from harming the downstream watershed, noting only that such details would need to be developed later. Will the City share its budget for these essential components of the proposed removal project?

Safety Concerns

  • Removal proponents claim that the Stairs are unsafe and a liability. But there has never been an accidental death on the Stairs in 80 years—and there have been no lawsuits either. By contrast, removing the Stairs will only lead hikers to follow less safe, alternative routes to reach the Stairs summit. Why would the City spend millions of taxpayer dollars on something that only going to make things less safe?

  • Most rescues attributed to the Stairs are due to hikers injured elsewhere, often coming up the back way from Moanalua or bush whacking at night to try to reach the base of the Stairs. First responders actually use the Stairs to rescue hikers injured elsewhere in the Koʻolau range.  Won't removing the Stairs only make things worse and lead to more difficult rescues?

  • Hikers in distress climbing the Moanalua route have prompted a dozen HFD rescue calls over the past two years. Taxpayer bills and safety risks are mounting.  Would-be Stairs climbers displaced to Moanalua are also creating other harms, including neighborhood disturbances, parking problems, and environmental damage. Won't removing the Stairs just export the problem to other side of the Koʻolau Mountains?

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Community Questions

"Why does the price keep going up?"

Plans for the Stairs should be developed in partnership with stakeholders in Haʻikū Valley and Heʻeia ahupuaʻa to realize synergies and exercise shared stewardship over cultural & historical sites. Shouldn't we work together to create something truly special in Haʻikū Valley that could become a focal point of pride, jobs, and investment for Windward O‘ahu? 

"Why does the price keep going up?"

Access to the Stairs would be curated by paid guides and overseen by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and environmental experts to ensure a safe, sustainable experience that respects the ʻāina and cultural protocols. Hiring locally would ensure that jobs benefit the community. Surplus revenues would be reinvested in community institutions, environmental restoration, and cultural stewardship to benefit local stakeholders. Why is the City spending millions of dollars rushing into a destructive demolition?

Generations of island residents have treasured the Haʻikū Stairs. They include not only hikers, but also scouting troops, educators, and native Hawaiian gatherers. Many Stairs’ supporters also live within the immediate Haʻikū Valley community. Do we really need to spend millions to destroy a historic monument and cherished hiking trail just to appease a handful of people who are badly affected by trespassing?

"Why does the price keep going up?"

There are only about a dozen residents who are directly affected by trespassing in Haʻikū Valley.  Do we really need to spend millions to destroy a historic monument and cherished hiking trail just to appease a dozen people?

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