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[Star-Advertiser EDITORIAL] Haiku Stairs in Crosshairs

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser. OUR VIEW (Editorial). June 17, 2023

Once again, the debate has flared up over the fate of the spectacular but decaying Stairway

to Heaven, aka Haiku Stairs.

This time, the catalyst is a renewed threat to demolish the narrow metal stairway along a ridgeline overlooking Windward Oahu. On June 1, the city opened the only bid it received to tear down the

structure: a $2.26 million offer from the Nakoa Cos. Inc., more than double earlier estimates.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi and the City Council apparently have concluded that Haiku Stairs must go. The now-closed stairs are an attractive nuisance, used by trespassers walking through neighborhoods in the pre-dawn hours to evade security and reach the top before sunrise. The city owns the stairs, which pose a liability risk — it’s been 20 years since they were last refurbished. Without regular maintenance and safety inspections, the stairs are unfit for normal public use.

Essentially, the city is faced with one of two choices: Tear down Haiku Stairs, or have it restored

for managed public use.

Advocates for preserving the stairs want the latter, and are girding for another fight to prevent the former. That could mean a lawsuit.

No one argues that Haiku Stairs is worthless. Successive city administrations, including the current one, have sought ways to reopen the stairs, which were officially closed to the public in 1987 due to vandalism and liability concerns. It offers access to an otherwise inaccessible Koolau Range ridgeline, along with spectacular views and a valuable cultural and environmental experience.

Unfortunately, reopening Haiku Stairs requires a level of commitment no one seems willing to make, even after years of debate and discussion.

That commitment requires more than advocacy and vague suppositions about costs and benefits. It requires a fully vetted, sustainable business plan and an operator willing and able to carry it out. The stairway would need some refurbishing. The operator would have to find adequate adjacent space for parking (which, unlike Hanauma Bay or Diamond Head, is not readily available). Also required is a ticketing/access system to collect entry fees, restrooms and waste management, environmental mitigation, cultural education, security and safety measures, liability insurance and regular maintenance, especially for the stairs themselves. Expect a lot more wear and tear, as the number of climbers increases exponentially.

Oh, and this operation would need to support itself, so realistic cost and income estimates for all of the above must be included. Otherwise, managed access will fail, the stairs will close again, and we’ll be back where we started. Relying on Oahu taxpayers to subsidize any shortfalls is a no-go. Tearing down Haiku Stairs, while expensive, would be a one-time expense.

Ideally, a private partner would step up; Roberts Hawaii and Kualoa Ranch, as well as others, have expressed interest. But the city needs a full commitment.

Given the larger pressing needs of Oahu residents, Haiku Stairs, to borrow the words of one former mayor, is a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.”

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