HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 23, 2019 (ENS) – Governor David Ige has suspended many environmental laws in his disaster declaration for the Pali Highway, issued today. He is suspending: the state water code, soil and water conservation, forest reserves, state parks and wildlife reserves, and the entire natural areas reserves system, among others.

While Gov. Ige is in Washington, DC at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, acting on behalf of the governor, issued the emergency proclamation. It provides relief for disaster damage and losses in the wake of the Pali Highway landslides that covered this essential roadway earlier this month.

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The Pali Highway as the landslides begin, Feb. 18, 2019 (Photo courtesy HDOT)

Now, this emergency will be resolved, but it may be at the expense of the natural ecosystems of the steep slopes of the Pali and surrounding lands.

In his emergency proclamation, the governor said that as allowed by federal law he will be suspending “to the extent necessary” environmental laws that cover: wildlife, the state water code, soil and water conservation, forest reserves, state parks and wildlife reserves, the entire natural areas reserves system, the conservation of aquatic life, and the statewide trail and access system, among others.

The disaster emergency relief period begins immediately and continues through April 22, 2019.

Among the oldest roads on Hawai’i’s main island of Oahu, the Pali Highway connects Honolulu on the south side of the island to the towns of Kailua and Kaneohe on the eastern, or windward, side.

The current Pali Highway is actually the third roadway to be built here. A large part of the oldest paved road was built over the ancient Hawaiian foot paths that traversed the famous Pali pass, the most easily accessible route from the Windward side to the Honolulu side that pierced the steep cliffs. “Pali” is the Hawaiian word for precipice,

When the current Pali Highway with its two tunnels through the mountain opened in the early 1950s, the original roadway was closed and is now used by hikers. But currently, hikers are being asked to avoid the area due to safety concerns and the risk of falling rocks.

The Hawaiian islands have endured harsh conditions this winter with big storms swirling around them all. A winter storm hit on February 13, with gusty winds, squalls, high surf and even snow. Flood advisories and flash flood warnings continued through the month and were renewed today.

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Boulders on the Pali Highway brought down by landslides, Feb. 19, 2019 (Photo courtesy HDOT)

The Pali Highway’s problems started Monday, February 18, when the state Department of Transportation, HDOT, closed the steep road after multiple landslides sent car-sized boulders and mounds of debris onto first the Kailua-bound and then the Honolulu-bound lanes, sending three people to hospital.

By Wednesday, things had gotten worse, as crews struggled to remove a section of the neighboring Old Pali Road that was hanging above the highway.

By Thursday, that part of the damaged Old Pali Road had been cut away and no longer poses a threat to the highway below.

Relieved, the state transportation department took the pressure off traffic on all surrounding roads by allowing contraflow of two lanes of Honolulu-bound traffic in the Kailua/Kaneohe bound direction of the Pali Highway, which continues next week.

The dislodging of loose material from the slope face, will continue above Pali Highway over the weekend. Onsite observations show some of the material is continuing downslope of the highway towards the Koolau Golf Course and could pose a rockfall danger to those on the trail below the highway, HDOT warns.

HDOT says it is designing plans for long term landslide mitigation solutions that may be implemented in the area. Fencing has been used to secure parts of the Pali embankments, but the fences did not hold in the current situation.

In the time between the Honolulu-bound contraflow and the afternoon Kailua/Kaneohe bound openings, HDOT will continue to work to stabilize the slope above Pali Highway between the tunnels.

Currently HDOT is investigating two possibilities that could stabilize the slope and mitigate rockfall – slope stabilization via soil nails and shotcrete, and extension of the tunnel structure on the Honolulu-bound side to deflect or catch rocks.

An update will be provided when the appropriate solution is chosen. The work is anticipated to take months to complete.

HDOT is asking hikers to avoid the Likeke Falls Hike below Pali Highway until further notice. The Nuʻuanu Pali State Wayside, also known as the Pali Lookout, remains closed due to the closure of Pali Highway.

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