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Thursday, March 16, 2000

By Barry Markowitz, Special to the Star-Bulletin
A ramp carpenter and several pedestrians scramble to escape
a huge Waimea Bay wave at 6:40 p.m. yesterday. Less than
an hour later, the pathway was declared closed by Civil
Defense Director Joe Reed, who said waves could be
building and could not be seen coming after dark.

Officials fear
more waves will
hit Waimea bypass

High surf knocked out a
walkway and temporary
roadway during the night

By Rod Ohira
and Gregg Kakesako


As some two-foot sections of plastic grid from a temporary beachfront walkway began washing ashore at Waimea Bay today, city lifeguards were envisioning a worse-case scenario.

Manpower vs. the Forces of Nature is no contest, they say.

"They got their first clue at 11 a.m. (yesterday), when waves started tearing up the pedestrian walkway," lifeguard David Yester said of state officials directing construction of a bypass road on the beach at Waimea Bay.

"That's when they started asking us for advice," he said. "They were under the impression the winter waves were over. Our main concern is anything they put down will spread out over the beach, because the work they can do in one week, the forces of the ocean can undo in one night."

Map However, with construction crews working round-the-clock, state officials still hoped the temporary bypass road would be finished and ready for use as early as tomorrow.

Already, the makeshift pedestrian walkway across the sand wasn't faring well. Civil Defense officials ordered it closed at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, although it was reopened to walkers this morning.

A late winter storm surge early this morning destroyed more than half the walkway and officials were concerned about storm swells this weekend. Surf was reported up to 20 feet at times last night and the forecast was for big surf Monday, also possibly 20 feet high.

Lifeguard Jeff Morelock believes a couple hundred feet of plastic grid from the walkway was washed into the bay.

"There's a tremendous amount of plastic out there," Morelock said, pointing to this morning's 15-foot surf.

Oahu Civil Defense Administrator Joe Reed estimated that 200 to 300 feet of the walkway on the Pupukea side of the bay was destroyed by the storm surf and will have to be rebuilt.

As for the bypass road, state Transportation Director Kazu Hayashida confirmed plans to use a layer of crushed coral on the surface.

Yester is concerned about "talk about them putting four inches of crushed coral" on the road.

"The waves move the sand here, so coral and dirt will be spread all over the beach if they add anything," he said. "This is such a pristine beach. It makes me sick to think about it."

Criticism also came yesterday from Micah Kane, executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party, who called the bypass road "a crazy idea that flies in the face of logic."

"You don't build a road that will end up at the bottom of the sea and tell people this is the answer to your problem," Kane said. "So far, it's a typical state solution: just spend a lot of money and watch it wash out to sea."

But state officials believe the road is needed because it will take several months to clear debris, boulders and other materials from the Pupukea heights cliff above Kamehameha Highway.

Meanwhile, work has begun to prepare the cliffside above Waimea Bay for blasting.

"Right now the plan is to set the anchors," Hayashida said. "We'll start chipping, drilling and shooting (blasting) on Monday."

Although the walkway was closed last night because of the surf, some North Shore residents continued to use it, making a 200-yard trek in near darkness across areas where water was surging.

"We're not arresting people," said police Major William Gulledge III. "It's too big an area" to police, he explained last night.

Gulledge said there are five-minute lulls between the big sets of waves, when it is safe to cross. Mayor Jeremy Harris last night ordered a safety rope put up along the walkway to give people something to hold onto in case they were hit by a wave.

Only one minor incident occurred when a firefighter was setting out the rope. "A wave hit him and he tumbled into the water and lost his radio," Reed said.

Reed's next big headache will be a storm front north of Hawaii, which is expected to send another set of high surf to Waimea this weekend.

"There will be another small spate on Saturday," Reed said. "We are more concerned about late Sunday and early Monday morning."

Jeff Spenser, an Oahu Civil Defense worker, said the highest storm surges occurred at 1 a.m. today when waves washed over the pathway and into the mouth of the river -- located 50 yards from the beach.

Spenser estimated that the sets of high surf were washing up on the beach every five minutes.

Although the beach was closed to swimming yesterday, surfers gathered at the beach to ride the high surf.

"It's like a circus here," said lifeguard Suzy Stewart, who was among the eight lifeguards posted at Waimea. "We have so much going on here. We have people coming to the beach, or going to school or work. We have surfers coming for the big waves. We have the construction over there. We have the big waves washing up. We have a lot happening."

North Shore residents continued to cope with having a quarter-mile section of Kamehameha Highway blocked off indefinitely. Vehicles have not been able to go pass Waimea Bay in either direction since boulders came tumbling down onto the highway above Waimea Bay on March 6.

Ehukai residents Vincent and Joely Brady, both 30, have been dropping their daughter off at Sunset Beach Elementary School and driving as close to Waimea Bay as possible to park.

They've been walking across the sand since the March 6 rockslide to go to work in Haleiwa.

"The bypass road is supposed to be open to traffic Monday but they say another storm is moving in so we'll just wait and see," Vincent Brady said.

Doug and Linda Semones, both Kahuku High School teachers, rushed across the sand yesterday afternoon from Pupukea to take 12 Little Leaguers to a game last night in Waialua. They cut their game short to return to the beach before nightfall to avoid being stranded.

Reporters Suzanne Tswei and Leila Fujimori
contributed to this report.

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