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Surf competition raises concerns over illegal parking, congestion

Residents file complaints after Jaws Challenge

The volunteer-led Hana Highway Regulation Committee tallied more than 400 cars on the side of the road at Peahi, Hahana and Oili roads at around 10:30 a.m. Thursday during the Jaws Big Wave Championships. Local residents have filed complaints about the parking situation, saying it’s caused congestion and safety concerns. Photo courtesy of the Hana Highway Regulation

HAIKU — There’s no doubt that the Jaws Big Wave Championships draw big crowds every year to Peahi. However this year, the World Surf League’s competition also drew a collection of community concerns.

Local residents filed complaints over the flood of cars parked along Hana Highway and blocking sections of Hahana, Peahi and Haiku roads, as well as spectators trespassing on private properties to catch a glimpse of the large shore break.

Unsurprisingly, traffic also backed up on the highway Thursday due to minimal parking options, construction and spectator street crossings.

“I’m definitely not anti-the event. I think it’s really awesome and I think it’s a wonderful display of athleticism, but I do think that the WSL should be responsible for ensuring safety on the highway that day,” said Haiku resident Kolette Gunnison on Wednesday. “Everybody knows that there’s traffic and the worst part about it is the pedestrians in the street, bad parking, cars are sticking out — it’s just the danger factor of it all.”

Big wave season started Nov. 1 and runs until March 31, during which contestants are on standby until surfing conditions are ideal in mid-December. The WSL Big Wave team typically notifies the surfers with a yellow light within four days of competition and then a green light within 48 hours.

Cars coming in for the Jaws Big Wave Championships at Peahi last week were backed up along Hana Highway due to limited parking options, construction work and pedestrian crossings. Photo courtesy of the Hana Highway Regulation

And, like the nature of the event, tourists and local spectators are also left on standby and are sometimes caught by surprise when the Jaws Challenge is set to begin and cars start lining up.

“I’m certainly not one who wants to see a parking lot — no way,” Gunnison said. “I’m also one who knows that on that day, it’s going to be congested and I’m OK with a little traffic for one day. . . . You just have to factor that into your drive and know that things are going to be a little more delayed that day. With that said, I think there should be some sort of parking control, whether to do some sort of coning to leave room for parking.

“I don’t know the exact solution, but I definitely don’t want to see anyone get hit by a car or have any car accidents,” she added.

While the World Surfing League has prior knowledge of the start date and event details, it couldn’t predict the overall growth of attendance and interest in the free live event.

“This year without question caught us a little off guard at the overwhelming response of spectators wanting to witness the event live,” WSL spokesperson Lauren Rolland said. “While we control all access to the event venue because it is on private property, we were not able to control the County of Maui-owned land where all the spectators gathered.

Spectators line the top of the steep cliff overlooking the 2019 cbdMD Jaws Big Wave Challenge professional surfing contest last Thursday at Peahi. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“In addition, which no one could prepare for, the state road workers happened to be re-striping the Hana Highway in that area, which added to the congestion,” Rolland said. “We will work with the local community and the County of Maui to ensure this does not happen next year.”

Hahana Road was used as the main access road down to Jaws for both drivers and spectators, and a few residents were concerned with environmental impact, claiming to find leftover trash and debris from the event.

There are additional public entryways down to the cliffs via local neighborhood routes, such as Oili Road, in which there were apparent complaints and confusion regarding blocked access.

Renee Hammer, another Haiku resident who has lived on one of the Jaws access roads for about six years, said Wednesday that she doesn’t mind pedestrians using the road to view the north shore waves, but suggested there be notices posted for everyone to see, so that the community “knows exactly what’s going on.”

“Before when they would have it here, and they would start blocking things off, it was kind of a nuisance,” Hammer said. “Everyone was parking on the side of the road and there were times that I couldn’t even get in my driveway because they were blocking my entire driveway, but it hasn’t been like that for a couple years.”

Hammer said that the biggest issue this year was the traffic on Hana Highway combined with the construction as she was “just trying to get home or get the kids from school — that part was frustrating.”

The volunteer-based Hana Highway Regulation Committee said they tallied more than 400 cars on the side of the road at Peahi, Hahana and Oili roads around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, and about 136 were logged as either parked “well outside of the white traffic lines and overflowing onto the roadways, or parked facing the opposite direction of traffic, or parked in a no parking zone, or parked in front of resident driveways without permission by the property owner.”

Three committee members were on site during the event to collect data, monitor conditions and log vehicles.

The committee was formed by the Hana Community Association as a way to address safety issues on the Road to Hana, such as illegal parking, trespassing on private property, unlicensed commercial activity and operations on land that the Hana community considers sacred.

“Cars in transit have to dodge pedestrians attempting to cross the highway and cars in transit are forced to drive partially on the opposite of the road against oncoming traffic to avoid collision with vehicles parked alongside the highway,” said Napua Hueu, Hana Highway Regulation Committee chairwoman. “We have communicated our concerns to the WSL and hope they consider more responsible event management mechanisms for future events.”

Additionally, the committee had a total of seven complaints called in by 8 a.m. from residents who live on Oili, Hahana and Peahi roads and Hana Highway.

The committee encourages visitors and residents to follow state Department of Transportation laws and regulations, and for community members to contact the committee to report or log their concerns via an offense report at HanaHighwayRegulation.com.

“We strongly recommend the community call Maui Police Department to report any illegal parking or public safety concerns,” Hueu added.

MPD Acting Lt. John Sang said that no parking citations were issued during the event, and that police received one call for service about parking but that it was already resolved when the officer arrived.

Maui County spokesman Chris Sugidono said Wednesday that the county does not have permitting authority over the coastal areas surrounding Jaws because it is in the State Conservation District, so no county permits appeared to be issued.

“We do, however, strongly urge the organizers to coordinate traffic management with our police department and other county departments to ensure public safety,” Sugidono said. “We want to thank members of the community for volunteering their time to monitor the numerous cars parked illegally and trespassing on private property during the Jaws Big Wave Championships. We encourage the public to call the Maui Police Department to report parking violations so they can be addressed accordingly.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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