Thursday, June 27, 2002

Workers in the Big Island community of Ainaloa attached a gate to a post yesterday in preparation for closing a road linking Ainaloa to the adjoining Hawaiian Acres. Ainaloa officials closed the private road, saying increased traffic has caused accidents.

A road less traveled

A Big Island subdivision
gates a private road that
is used in emergencies

By Rod Thompson

AINALOA, Hawaii >> Despite pleas from Mayor Harry Kim, a Big Island community has closed an emergency road in the Puna District because of traffic hazards.

Officials of Ainaloa subdivision, 14 miles south of Hilo, placed a locked gate on their portion of the Puna Emergency Access Road yesterday.


Safety is their main concern, they said. Since the road opened in 1999, it has turned into a major shortcut for traffic between upper Puna and lower Puna, resulting in speeding, numerous accidents and deaths, they said.

Critics in neighboring Hawaiian Acres, where many people want the road open, say Ainaloa's stance is blackmail.

"They're basically blackmailing the county," said Sheldon Lehman, the volunteer fire chief in Hawaiian Acres, who wants the road open.

Kim said he is not sure what Ainaloa officials want, since their requests have varied.

Ainaloa board President William Coney says the main concern is safety, meaning preventing accidents. Liability, meaning fighting lawsuits, is secondary, he said.

But in a March letter to Kim, Coney listed as a "non-negotiable item" the county taking over the road to "cover all liability."

Kim was clear that he did not want the road closed. "Balancing all community interest leads us to conclude this road must remain open," Kim wrote to Coney.

Despite its public use, only a tiny part of the 10.5-mile route is publicly owned.

Ainaloa owns Ainaloa Boulevard, which now has a gate at its upper boundary.

Hawaiian Acres owns 8 Road and other roads that make up its portion of the emergency road.

Although more than $1 million of county and federal money went into creating the emergency route, the county owns only the one-third-mile link between subdivisions.

Ainaloa Road Committee Chairman Philip Brazier says former Mayor Stephen Yamashiro promised to take possession of Ainaloa Boulevard and improve it.

That did not happen, but Kim has offered again to take ownership, although warning that the county has no money for improvements.

Kim also noted in a letter to Coney, "There is tremendous public benefit to this open road."

The shortcut through Puna has meant a lot of traffic from upper Puna supporting businesses in Pahoa in lower Puna, said Ken Cutting, a member of the Hawaiian Acres Community Association board.

The road has served its emergency purpose six times when the main Keaau-Pahoa Highway was blocked by accidents or rain, Cutting said.

Coney said police, firefighters and ambulances will have keys to the Ainaloa gate, allowing continued emergency use.

Ainaloa officials say the gate will be closed to the general public for a "trial period" of three months while the county comes up with new proposals.

Hawaiian Acres Community Association President Russ Brauher says he does not think the closure will be permanent. "I think the county will succumb to the pressure," he said.

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