Coconut palms, here in characteristic sway at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel yesterday in Waikiki, could face the executioner's ax due to health and safety issues.

Royal Hawaiian
culling palm trees

By Treena Shapiro

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel may have to remove some of its century-old coconut palms because they have grown too tall or too ill to be maintained.

Hotel spokeswoman BJ Whitman said hotel officials are looking at the trees to determine "which ones are healthy, which ones need trimming and which ones need replacing."

The hotel is three weeks away from deciding which trees will have to go, Whitman said.

A Star-Bulletin reader wrote in last week to complain about the hotel's plans for the coconut palms, and about plumeria trees that already were removed.

Whitman wasn't sure whether any plumeria trees were removed, but noted that some of the trees have been heavily trimmed.

The hotel is known for its lush grounds, which were once home to the almost 10,000 tree royal coconut grove called Helumoa, according to the Waikiki Historic Trail Web site.

"According to legend, the first tree was planted in the 16th century by the great chief Kakuhihewa," the site said.

Some of the towering coconut palms are more than 100 years old, which raises concerns about safety.

"After a certain height, there is no one available to service (trim) the trees, which creates a health and safety problem," Whitman said.

The hotels began developing a plan to remove some trees in 1999, after a tree trimmer was injured when he fell more than 60 feet. The trees can be safely maintained up to 75 feet.

Coconut palms can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and can produce fruit until they are 80 years old. The other worry is that some of the trees are dying, another potential safety risk, Whitman said.

The hotel plans to replace some of the trees it removes.

"There may be some trees that we will not replace, but we will be in the replacement mode with a lot of them," Whitman said.

Because the hotel is in a special historic district, a Waikiki special district permit is needed before the trees are removed, said city spokeswoman Carol Costa.

The hotel's owner, Kyo-ya Company Ltd., also plans to remove trees at its Sheraton-Waikiki and Princess Kaiulani hotels, she said.

The hotels already have submitted one plan to the city Department of Planning and Permitting to remove the trees, but it was returned because too few trees were to be replaced, Costa said.

"We're waiting for them to come back with another proposal because they had removed more trees than would have been recommended by the department," Costa said.

The new proposal also will include landscaping plans.

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