Landslides and a downed tree that closed Highway 270, also known as Akoni Pule Highway, in three different places east of Kapaau last month marked one more example of why the area needs another option when it comes to getting residents out — and first responders in — should an emergency occur, area residents say.
It’s with emergency needs like that in mind that community residents are taking up the charge and seeking volunteers to take part in a cleanup effort so one particular road, Pratt Road, can get residents and first responders in and out should disaster strike
Residents have long called for an emergency bypass in the area. The North Kohala Community Development Plan, published in November 2008, specifically includes improvements of the region’s roadway system and creation of an emergency bypass among its strategies and action programs.
That document lists the need to open another road in areas susceptible to being closed by natural disasters as a primary concern.
Pratt Road in particular, it said, came up as a possible emergency bypass route around Hawi and Kapaau should Akoni Pule Highway be closed.
The Community Development Plan doesn’t propose the outright acquisition of Pratt Road, instead saying the action committee and county Department of Public Works should coordinate to identify the owners and discuss with them the potential for emergency use.
The county Department of Public Works said they have no plans to fund any construction, maintenance or other work along Pratt Road and that, given that much of it is on private property, they also lack the authority to do any maintenance anyway.
But just because the county said they aren’t able to put any funds toward the effort, that isn’t keeping the community from organizing themselves and doing what they can to get it done.
Jeffrey Coakley, who’s among those organizing the effort, said they recognize the county and state have “got their hands full,” but noted that different people have been trying to get the bypass done for years without any result.
“So we just figured, ‘You know what? We’re not going to bother with the county or the state,’” he said. “We’re just going to go out there and do this, because it’s for our own families, our own children and spouses and whatnot. We cannot do nothing, we gotta go do something.”
That something is an upcoming community effort to clear about a mile of Pratt Road to make it more accessible and usable in the event of an emergency.
Sarah Pule-Fujii, a Niulii resident and another organizer of the upcoming cleanup, said the intention isn’t to open up the road for public use, but rather just to have a way in and out in case an emergency arises.
“We’re hoping we will never have to use it,” she said, “but just to have it just in case.”
On July 7, community members are invited to come out and lend a hand to clean the road. Coakley said plans for the cleanup started long before this month’s landslides, but said the incident was “a good example of what we’re talking about.”
Pule-Fujii also said the landslides were a clear example of why an emergency route is so crucial.
“If we had Pratt Road ready, we would have been able to get out,” she said.
Pule-Fujii also referenced floods that occured in the area back in 2014, which restricted access in and out of the communities, as well as other emergencies that closed the road.
Coakley said the section eyed for cleanup starts in Niulii close to Keokea Beach Park and ends just before Kapanaia Bridge.
While the full length of Pratt Road has 42 individual owners, this section, he said, only has about half a dozen.
“They’re very supportive,” Coakley said.
This community effort is only planned to be the beginning of a large-scale project, he noted, saying it’s also an opportunity to show the rest of the landowners exactly what the community is trying to do.
“It’s not going to be for everyday public use,” he said. “It’s only when there is an emergency that the people can get in and out along with health and safety services. And that’s the whole intent.”
Those interested can meet at the Keokea Beach Park main pavilion at 7 a.m. on July 7. Additional information is available on the “Pratt Road Emergency Bypass” Facebook group.
Pule-Fujii said organizers are only requesting volunteers aged 18 and older be on the work site.
One crew will be the chainsaw crew, which will be responsible for cutting back the hau. There will also be a mower crew to cut grass and remove rocks and similar hazards. A third crew will be packing gravel into holes in the road. The last crew will prepare lunch for all the workers.
Volunteers should wear sturdy shoes, a hat to protect from the sun and gloves. Those on the chainsaw crew should specifically wear hardhats and gloves, Coakley said.
Tools, including rakes, shovels and picks are also welcome as is other equipment that can help get the job done.
Organizers have also created a GoFundMe page, titled “Makapala-Niuli’i Emergency By-pass,” to raise some money to pay for fuel for those who come out and help.