Opposition is mounting inside the Honolulu City Council to stop a controversial construction project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, also known as Sherwood Forest.
Three council members — Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson, Kymberly Pyne and Heidi Tsuneyoshi —announced their opposition Wednesday at a council hearing to turning a rural beachside park into a $32 million regional sports complex with four ballfields and up to 470 parking stalls.
Many residents did not know the plan was being considered until bulldozers arrived and began clearing away brush and trees. Opposition to the project has spread rapidly in the last month.
But Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he remains committed to pushing ahead.
In response to the criticism, city officials have stressed that what is under construction is only phase one, including one ball field and 11 parking stalls, at a cost of $1.4 million. They say they have no plans for further construction at this time.
More than 16,000 people have signed an online petition in opposition to the project.
More than 100 opponents, some waving Hawaiian flags and wearing traditional Hawaiian attire, showed up for the hearing at of the Committee on Parks, Community Services and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Kalani Kalima, a lifelong Waimanalo resident who has emerged as a leader of the group, urged peaceful protest, patience and persistence as the meeting started, and led the group in song, hand in hand, as they stood together in a circle with the council members after the meeting ended.
Changes From The Original Master Plan
At the meeting, Anderson, who represents Waimanalo and was formerly the project’s lead proponent, again asked the mayor to halt the project indefinitely, and said he has asked for $100,000 to replant the area with native Hawaiian trees and plants.
Pine also called for the construction to be halted, as a result of her visit there this weekend.
“I was overcome with emotion by what I saw. Barren, bulldozed earth where tall trees once stood for generations, providing a unique and beautiful habitat,” she wrote in a letter to Caldwell.
City officials explained at the hearing what they were doing at the site. But they were outnumbered by opponents who testified against the project, saying it would hurt endangered Hawaiian hoary bats and has devastated a space sacred to Hawaiians.
She was also disturbed by testimony that the full project could require some 157,500 gallons of drinkable water each day for irrigation, which she said would put “an enormous strain on water service to the community.”
She also said that photographs circulated at the meeting showed that the area that has been cleared for the project did not match up with the site’s master plan. An area designated by the plan as a baseball field, to be built in a later phase of the project, has been shifted to a multipurpose field.
Robert Kroning, director of the Department of Design and Construction, acknowledged that “the multipurpose field is not in the place where the master plan says it should be.”
But city officials believe they could go back and repurpose fields from one use to another in phases two or three of the project, he said. City officials previously told opponents and reporters that the city had no further plans beyond phase one.
Anderson said Kroning’s statement added to his concern about the project, saying that “what is depicted in the master plan is not what the administration is going forward with.”
Tsuneyoshi said she also believed too many trees had been removed.
“If you look at that aerial picture, it’s kind of really sad to see how much green space has been taken down,” she said.
Jeanne Ishikawa, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city went forward with the plan because it believed soil problems at the Azevado fields at Waimanalo District Park would cost $10 million to repair and that building new ball fields at Sherwood Forest would be cheaper.
“We thought this was an opportune time to put this in to give something to the community,” she said.
“We felt there was a net benefit for the public,” said Clifford Lau, a Department of Design and Construction official who worked on the project.
In a letter to Anderson Tuesday, Caldwell said contracts “have been awarded and construction is underway,” adding that “tree removal work has been completed in advance of the June 1st deadline required to protect the Hawaiian hoary bats.”
Caldwell said that the city could make use of the native plants Anderson would like to provide by placing them “in appropriate areas around the multi-purpose field.”
Pine said she hoped that the mayor would change his mind.
“In my heart I feel that he is listening,” she said at the hearing.
The hearing comes a week after two pieces of heavy equipment at the site were found to be on fire. The Honolulu Police Department said it might have been arson.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.