A hot controversy over an unpopular construction project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park got even hotter Friday as Honolulu City Council member Ikaika Anderson called for a halt to the project and Mayor Kirk Caldwell said no.
Almost 9,000 people have signed an online petition in opposition to a multi-million-dollar plan by Honolulu to build a new sports field complex at the beach park, located on land near Bellows Air Force Station that is known as Sherwood Forest.
Opponents say the construction is endangering important archaeological sites and threatening to destroy the breeding grounds of the hoary bat, or opeapea, a nocturnal tree-roosting mammal indigenous to Hawaii. An endangered species, the opeapea holds a special place in Hawaiian culture as an aumakua, a family ancestor god.
After an organizational meeting last week drew more than 100 people, scores of opponents have mobilized sign-waving protests along Kalanianaole Highway, with passing drivers frequently honking and shouting their support for the effort to stop the project.
The plan had been in the works for about a decade, but many residents only became aware of it last week when construction crews arrived and became tearing out trees and their roots and other vegetation, a process known as “grubbing.”
“We didn’t know about it; we found out when they started bulldozing,” said Kalani Kalima, a Waimanolo resident who has emerged as a leader in opposition to the project. “The government is pushing these kinds of projects down our throats.”
Late Friday afternoon, Anderson, who lives in Waimanalo and represents Windward Oahu, released a letter asking Caldwell to “pause” the construction work, which he acknowledged had been highly criticized because of what he called misperceptions over the scope of the work.
Anderson, who has been a supporter of the project, said that a preliminary version of the master plan suggested grubbing on the site would not occur between April 15 and Aug.15 to avoid interfering with the breeding season of the hoary bat. But the final master plan, he said, identified the time period to avoid grubbing as June 1 to Sept. 15.
“This inconsistency coupled with a general concern for the well-being of the hoary bats does give good reason for us to pause the current work to honor the April 15 cease-work date,” Anderson wrote, asking for the city to stop the construction work immediately.
About a half hour later, another press release began making the rounds, this one from Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Caldwell said that stopping the project now would cost taxpayers as much as $300,000, because it would mean stopping a construction project where the contract was already awarded.
“Therefore, the city will proceed with the completion of Phase 1, which includes a multi-purpose field, a play apparatus and an 11-stall parking lot at a cost of $1.42 million,” Caldwell wrote.
Caldwell said the city would review with Anderson “whether to proceed with any additional work phases.”
Waimanalo resident Karin O’Mahony, who opposes the project, said she thought the letters were transparent political gestures designed to create the appearance that the city was taking residents’ concerns seriously.
“It all feels so disingenuous to me,” O’Mahony said. “I’m disgusted by all of them.”
A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.