June 10, 2023
Richard Bissen Jr.
Residents in the remote areas of Maui County are no strangers to hardship — they are the most resilient communities — but each challenge is unique.
An emergency closure of less than a mile of rural county roadway that connects Kipahulu and Kaupo started May 10 because increased Alelele Point rockfalls made the area unsafe to pass.
The call to close the road while emergency Alelele Point slope repairs are done was not a decision made lightly by the Maui County Department of Public Works. After all, the narrow, winding road between Mile Markers 38 and 39 is a lifeline to work, social, school and home activities for a small part of our Maui population in Kipahulu, Kaupo and Hana.
That’s why it is important to go directly to impacted communities who are experiencing hardship, provide updates and make ourselves available to help with questions and address concerns.
Last weekend, county leaders drove to Kipahulu, Hana and Kaupo for community meetings on the Alelele Point rockfall project. More than 100 residents attended the June 3 and 4 meetings, and we’re grateful that people took time out of their weekend to share experiences, concerns and questions with members of our team. Open, respectful exchanges strengthened our dialogue, and we appreciated the opportunity to hear challenges residents are facing and suggestions to help alleviate the impacts.
Public Works Director Jordan Molina shared information at all three meetings about events leading up to the emergency road closure, the selection of a contractor, the work schedule and the possibility of limited access for residents once conditions are safe. Emergency services and visitor traffic were also discussed.
Mahalo to individuals who came out to share their mana’o. Mahalo also to Wananalua Church in Hana town; Aunty Tweetie Lind, president of Kipahulu Community Association, and the Kalena Triangle ‘ohana; and Makalapua Kanuha, president of the Kaupo Community Association, for graciously hosting us. Thank you to Maui nonprofit Feed My Sheep for donating nonperishable food to help save residents a grocery trip.
Rural places in East Maui have experienced rockslides and other hazards in the past. But this portion of Alelele Point is particularly problematic. Years ago, two deaths occurred in the area due to rockfalls.
After Public Works crews responded recently to an increase in rock and mudslides, Director Molina had an expert engineer assess the area. The engineering report determined the area unsafe for passage. Fractures in overhead boulders show light cracking through, and repeat rockfall paths are carved along the cliffside.
The emergency slope repair work will be conducted by Prometheus Construction Inc., which was selected following a request for proposals. Prometheus completed two county emergency slope repairs last year at Manawainui Gulch and at Haiku Road. Other county work includes emergency rock scaling for Kahekili Highway in 2021; Pi’ilani Highway slope stabilization at Nuanualoa Gulch in 2023; and Keanae Road safety improvements in 2020.
Full rock scaling is scheduled to start in mid-June. Crews will have to climb the slope that extends 250 feet high to remove loose or unstable material throughout roughly five acres of cliffside. Approximately 1,500 tons of rock debris must be removed, and the county will reassess safety after three weeks.
Crews are working from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The project will cost $1.5 million.
Some area residents are driving five to six hours round trip due to the closure. They’re waiting for any new information on the project so they can plan their lives. A group of residents are glad visitors aren’t able to travel through the area, and others want more visitor traffic to support small businesses. The challenges are unique and important to our hard-to-reach neighborhoods.
In order to alleviate some of the obstacles, residents in Kaupo receiving their mail through the Hana Post Office are encouraged to have their mail transferred to Kula.
A new county webpage titled “Alelele Point Rock Scaling Project Updates” on the home page of www.mauicounty.gov has been launched to help keep affected residents informed.
For residents impacted by Alelele Point closure, please fill out the county Maui Emergency Management Agency online form at www.mauicounty.gov/AlelelePoint to help determine the extent of impact and identify people in need of assistance.
* Our County, a column from Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen and his administration, discusses county issues and activities of county government. It alternates on Saturday with “Council’s 3 Minutes.”