Shutdown worries Waimanalo
|||Graphic: Protecting motorists at Makapu'u|
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
WAIMANALO Merchants here fear that business could be as bad as it was in the days after 9/11 when Kalaniana'ole Highway, their lifeline to the tour buses that make up the major part of their livelihood, closes during peak hours beginning next week for work to prevent rocks from falling on the roadway.
Bruce Asato The Honolulu Advertiser
Waimanalo businesses fear they have a lot to lose when the highway is closed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Bruce Asato The Honolulu Advertiser
But while hoping for the best, businesses are bracing for the worst when the road is closed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week beginning next week.
The safety of Sea Life Park's 100 employees and its neighbors and visitors has priority, said Wayne Nielsen, general manager of the visitor attraction that's also Waimanalo's largest employer.
But the road closure during the "heart and soul of the business day is going to be devastating," he said. "It will be like 9/11 reincarnated."
Tourism-dependent merchants saw dramatic drops in business after the Sept. 11 attacks, with some experiencing losses of 30 percent or more from which many are still recovering.
"We'll have to close," predicted Jaeim Kang, manager for Hawai'i's Hidden Treasures in Waimanalo Shopping Center. Kang said she's not sure what will happen, but the shop relies only on tour bus passengers so the prospects are bad. The shop employs eight to 10 people.
Toni Blanchard, owner of the Point Break surf shop, said she was prepared for the project to begin later in February and was hoping to save enough money from Christmas sales to cover rent for two months. Now she's not sure how she'll manage.
Amid those dire expectations comes word that the project won't be completed in three weeks and that another three weeks of road closures albeit intermittent will be necessary.
The community has been pressuring the state to do something about the Makapu'u rockslide hazard for years. When a sizable amount of rocks and debris fell on the highway in the early morning hours of Oct. 15, residents sought to accelerate the project; the state Department of Transportation and Gov. Ben Cayetano agreed.
The Makapu'u Rockfall Mitigation Project will begin this week, but road closure will begin next Wednesday and last until Nov. 27.
During that time the highway on either side of the project, between the two lookouts at Makapu'u Point, will be closed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day, except to emergency vehicles that will be able to call ahead and arrange passage through the construction.
The work begins with a crew slowly descending the rocky cliff above the highway at Makapu'u Beach with hand tools to remove loose material. Once that's completed, controlled blasting will remove six rock outcroppings that are potential hazards.
The highway also will be partially closed during the net hanging, which will last another three weeks, and motorists can expect delays of up to 30 minutes during that work, the contractor said. One lane will remain open, with traffic alternating either way.
Kang and several tour companies want the state to reconsider the daily starting time to allow the tour buses to come through in the morning.
State officials held out little hope for that at a community information meeting, saying the contractor was on a tight schedule because it had to reshuffle plans after the project was moved up.
Prometheus Construction of Santa Barbara, Calif., had sought daily 12-hour closures because of the tight schedule.
Cliff Tillotson, general manager for Prometheus, said he would be willing to close and open the road later each day, but he could not consider reducing the eight hours he has been restricted to.
"I need those hours to maintain the schedule," said Tillotson, who explained that delays in obtaining materials and another commitment on the Mainland are also compromising the schedule.
The initial work will be completed in three weeks but the net won't be delivered right away, he said.
He also said the company has an obligation for a project on Hoover Dam beginning in December and may have to leave O'ahu before it can finish hanging the net. Tillotson said he's still trying to reschedule the Hoover Dam project.
In the meantime, tour companies are adjusting their schedules.
Roberts Hawaii Tours said it will leave Waikiki earlier for its circle-island tour to avoid the closure.
E Noa Tours said it may have to cut out the dozen trolley trips it makes to Sea Life Park each day and may have to avoid Waimanalo altogether for its minivan circle-island tours.
Bill Haoli, logistics manager for E Noa, said he's trying to persuade the state to start at 9 a.m., allowing time for the vans to pass through Waimanalo before construction begins each day.
"It would be favorable for the entire industry," Haoli said.
Sea Life Park's Nielsen said, "I just hope to get through the 21 days. It will be tough."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 234-5266.