Kalaupapa Conundrum

Is a facelift in store for the Kalaupapa shore?

By Brandon Roberts

There are 26 switchbacks on the hike to Kalaupapa, which at one time were marked by numbered signs. The National Parks Service (NPS) recently unveiled plans to install new signs, dedicating each switchback to a patient currently living in Kalaupapa.

Parks Department archeologist Erika Viernes-Stein proposed the sign dedication to restore the allegedly vandalized trail. At Kalaupapa’s monthly meeting, residents also received initial details on a proposed harbor upgrade.

NPS officials told residents that the peninsula’s only harbor needs a major facelift to accommodate larger barges.

Clarence “Boogy” Kahilihiwa, a Kalaupapa resident since 1959, is nervous about the harbor plans. “They need to look at all options besides dredging,” he said. “I think they should leave it as is.” Kahilihiwa recalls failed restoration attempts in the late sixties.

The proposed harbor construction and dredging follow the recent decommissioning of Young Brothers’ small barge that once carried the necessary goods to the settlement. Barge size is restricted because of the current harbor facilities and the depth of the bay for the vessel to turn around. Smaller barges are disappearing, as companies find them less profitable, leaving Kalaupapa with few options.

Peninsula residents are at the mercy of Young Brothers, which is leasing a barge to continue interim service to the peninsula. According to Baron Chan, of the Dept. of Health, the shipper has no obligation to the settlement, and is not willing to commit in writing to the continued service.

The proposed federal harbor fixes will cost $11 million to $14 million, which left residents asking for viable alternatives. They asked if that money could go to the purchase of their own barge, or if it was necessary for the barge to turn around in the bay.

Kalaupapa employee Shannon Crivello said dredging the bay would inevitably change the aquatic environment, affecting fishing and crabbing. Dredging would also send sediment toward Mo`omomi, a pristine fishing area five miles west of Kalaupapa.

NPS officer Jonathan Gervais said that harbor restoration would require an Environmental Assessment (EA). The community dialogue is part of the EA process to gather input.

“Are we doing things right?” Gervais asked. “Community meetings are essential and we take a hard look at their proposals to come up with solutions that make the most sense.”

Gervais said the EA could be submitted by late 2008. If approved, construction would not begin until 2012. The proposed improvements would be the final step of a larger renovation process. The Hawaii Department of Health has already completed minor repairs.

The peninsula, part of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, is under a 50-year lease to the federal government. Roughly 30 years remain on the lease.

Other items discussed at the community meeting included a new sign at the airport, as well as a recycling program.

A new sign at the airport and post office were provided by the USDA to inform visitors of invasive species and illegal transportation of flora and fauna.

Kalaupapa will also be greener thanks to the peninsula’s first recycling program. Brooke Jarvis, the recycling intern, will assess the community’s needs and have the program running by September.

Kalaupapa community meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month at McVeigh Hall. The next meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. on April 8. On the agenda is a presentation about monument restorations and cemetery work.

Questions and comments on the harbor proposal can be emailed to KALA_superintendent@NPS.gov.


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