KAPAA, Kauai — Authorities shut down a protest camp on the grounds of the famed Coco Palms resort Thursday morning, ordering campers off the property and blocking entry by those who had lived at the site for weeks, months and in some cases almost a year.
Almost a month after a judge ordered the eviction in the case of two encampment leaders, 25 deputy state sheriffs arrived to clear the property. About a dozen Native Hawaiians claiming ancestral ties to the land had continued to live on the property, farming taro, keeping watch over ancient burials and hosting Hawaiian language classes.
Mahealani Hanie-Grace, 23, who had been living at the camp, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of trespass and booked at the Kauai Police Department, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.
“We were under the assumption that the ejectment was pending,” said Ke’ala Lopez, 22, an anthropology student at Columbia University who has been sleeping at the camp since New Year’s Day. “So when you are under that assumption and dozens of police officers come in and block the road and take over your hale, it’s devastating.”
Lopez told Civil Beat she wasn’t sure what her next step would be.
“I truly believe this place is protected,” she said. “Coco Palms got destroyed by a hurricane and for 20 years that one hurricane kept it from functioning. Now there are developers wanting to start again and the kanaka have been called in to protect it.”
As a trio of law enforcement agents blocked access to the encampment, Noa Mau-Espirito, one of two defendants in a land ownership dispute with Coco Palms Hui, displayed a map of the former Coco Palms resort property and informed the authorities of his plans to relocate the protest camp outside the bounds of the land parcel that is subject to the court order.
“I’m just letting you guys know these two plots are considered unencumbered state lands so that’s where I’m going,” Espirito said.
The dispute over the Wailua property’s ownership has lasted almost a year, stalling a planned redevelopment of the hotel where Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” was filmed in 1961. Long before the resort popularized torch-lighting ceremonies as a mainstay of Hawaii hospitality, the property was the 19th century home of Kauai’s last queen, Deborah Kapule Kaumuali’i.
Chad Waters and Tyler Greene of the Honolulu-based redevelopment firm Coco Palms Hui say they are committed to reopening the site as the Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt with an estimated $135 million project that will pay tribute to the property’s storied heritage.
The resort has been closed since it was heavily damaged in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.
“Coco Palms Hui LLC is grateful that this particular saga in the rebuild of the Coco Palms Resort is now history,” Waters said Thursday. “We look forward to the next steps with final designs, engineering, permitting and then starting construction.”
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho issued this statement Thursday:
I empathize with our Hawaiian community in this very emotional dispute. As Mayor, I understand the cultural and spiritual significance of this property. But above all emotions, I understand that we must all follow and respect the law. The court’s recent decision is very clear, and I continue to encourage all involved to move forward in a peaceful and respectful manner.
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