Trespassers ignore ban on Oahu's Haiku Stairs
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By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KANE'OHE — The city will spend nearly $50,000 this year for private security to deter hiking at Ha'iku Stairs.
But despite guards being posted 12 hours a day and police responding whenever they're called, trespassers continue to climb the landmark that has been off-limits since 1987.
Nevertheless, police have issued just three citations in the last three years — two in 2005 and one in 2006 — according to the city's Customer Services Department
Police say they respond when they're called but that the many accesses to the stairs makes enforcement difficult.
Five years after major renovations to the stairs were completed and a planned reopening scuttled, the popular attraction remains closed to the public, its future bogged down in access issues and illegal hiking still a problem.
Jeff Coelho, director for city Customer Services, said the fate of the stairs is still under consideration.
"The city continues to seek final resolution," Coelho said in an e-mail. "The complexity of issues include everything from liability and risk to access and maintenance."
Area residents have called for its permanent closure during the heat of controversy in 2002 and 2003 when hikers by the hundreds would trespass over neighboring properties to get to the stairs because access was fenced off but repairs completed. Some even wanted to dismantle the stairs.
Advocates say the stairs are a natural resource that can be handled responsibly and should be opened to the public.
Last week, rescue workers were called out at 5:30 a.m. when area residents spotted a flashing light on the slope of the stairs. But firefighters responding in a helicopter realized the help was not needed and that the flashing light was from a camera.
The city posts a guard at the foot of the stairs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, but it's not unusual to see hikers on the stairs in the middle of the day.
The city spends about $4,000 a month on guards at the site, according to Customer Services.
Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said trespassers are an ongoing problem and police receive numerous complaints regarding parking and trash.
"It's difficult to enforce, one reason being there are multiple entrances. If they (officers) receive a report of someone hiking, they'll respond, but oftentimes they can't see the person. The person is no longer in the area."
Police could wait at the bottom of the stairs, but that would take the officer away from responding to other calls, she said.
"It's not practical for the officer to wait there," she said.
First constructed in 1942 of wood, the stairs were replaced with metal 10 years later and eventually fell into disrepair, forcing their closure in 1987. The city spent $875,000 to fix the stairs and had plans to reopen the attraction in October 2002.
The 3,922-step climb up the Pu'u Keahiakahoe peak became the focus of controversy after the stairs were repaired because illegal hikers were crossing neighboring property to get to them.
Some residents reported counting as many as 200 hikers a day and complained that they were rude, taking up parking, blocking mail delivery and trash pickup with their parked cars and arriving early in the morning, causing dogs to bark and waking residents.
The city came close to reopening the stairs several times but canceled over signage and then access issues that couldn't be resolved. Neighbors have fought the reopening.
But the Friends of Ha'iku Stairs has maintained that the use of the stairs could be managed, thereby avoiding the problems of the past.
John Goody, president of the Friends of Ha'iku Stairs, said the group gets frequent questions about the status of the stairs from people around the world and they are told that they are closed. The Friends organizes quarterly cleanups of the climb, and Goody said the stairs are in good shape.
"For us in the long term, we believe the stairs will be open because it's a public resource and a few people shouldn't have a right to prevent the public from making responsible use of the stairs," he said, adding that the Friends wants the resource managed.
"It's never going to be for mass hiking just because of the geometry of it, but for education and managed use, yes."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.