Opponents of a deeply unpopular development at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park are headed to court to protect what they say is a sacred Native Hawaiian burial ground where the city arrested more than two dozen peaceful protesters yesterday

The nonprofit Save Our Sherwoods and four individuals filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court yesterday against city agencies and the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

They’re suing to “stop the conversion of a culturally and environmentally sensitive community beach park into a massive sports complex,” according to the lawsuit. 

“Plaintiffs file this action as a last resort to protect water-oriented recreational opportunities, the public trust, neighboring residential communities, and the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park,” the lawsuit states. 

Sherwood Forest Supporters arrested by HPD after blocking construction equipment from entering the Sherwood Forest access road off of Kamehameha Hwy.
Residents seeking to protect Sherwood Forest were arrested on Thursday by HPD after blocking construction equipment from entering the access road off of Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, also known as Sherwood Forest, is a nearly 5.5-mile long stretch of shoreline that is “one of the few remaining examples of a shaded beach and coastal forest on the island,” the lawsuit states. 

It is listed on the National Register of Historic places and is home to “documented historic sites and burials containing human remains,” according to the lawsuit.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says there are no iwi in the current construction area, but opponents dispute that. 

The city started construction in April on four multi-purpose ball fields, 470 paved parking stalls and a 2,500-square-foot concrete pad for a play structure. Work started “despite a flawed planning process, inadequate community engagement, and overwhelming public opposition,” the lawsuit states. 

Opponents have been protesting for about six months holding signs with phrases such as “A’OLE DEVELOPMENT,” waving Hawaiian flags and chanting “Aloha Aina.” An online petition to “Save Sherwood Forest” has more than 30,000 signatures.

As a result of the backlash, Caldwell has promised to scale the project down and pursue only “Phase I,” which includes one ball field and several parking spaces. The mayor pledged that “this administration” will not develop beyond Phase I, feeding suspicions from critics that the door will be open for development by future city leaders. 

At a press conference on Thursday, Caldwell said the city is moving forward with its plans despite the opposition.

“At this point, we want to get this done,” he said.

Federal officials are named in the lawsuit because Waimanalo Bay Beach Park received funding from the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund in the 1970s, according to the complaint. 

Sherwood Forest Supporters gather near Sherwood Access road after supporters were arrested by HPD.
Police said 28 protestors were arrested and booked on obstructing a highway or public passage and were released after posting $100 bail each. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“In the project agreement for the grant application, the State of Hawai‘i agreed to be restricted to developing ‘water-oriented recreation facilities in a beach park,’” the lawsuit states. A 1977 environmental impact statement by the state found that organized sporting activities weren’t an appropriate use of the land. 

The lawsuit argues the funding agreement “constitutes a conservation easement” and the federal government has “contractual rights against the state.” It also states that the city failed to meet various requirements for building on the land, did not properly consider alternatives and relied on a flawed environmental assessment that included false information. 

Opponents also said in the lawsuit that the area doesn’t need additional sports facilities. Waimanalo Beach Park, located 1.4 miles from Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, has three ball fields, the lawsuit says. Waimanalo District Park/Azevedo Field, which is 1.8 miles away, has one ball field, a multi-use field and a community center. 

Both have been in a “state of neglect and disrepair for a number of years,” the lawsuit states. 

Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs and civil penalties.

Andrew Pereira, Caldwell’s communications director, declined to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit.

“Generally, the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation,” he said.

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