Undaunted by the mass arrests of protesters opposing construction at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, about 100 people gathered outside the demolition zone Saturday morning to underscore their resolve to maintain a Mauna Kea-inspired fight to preserve the park and its historic significance.
Their determination was fueled by an archaeologist who on Saturday seemed to quickly uncover historically significant items just by poking around in mounds of construction dirt and debris that had been piled up by city-funded work crews.
Two days ago, on Thursday, more than 75 police officers converged on the Waimanalo site and arrested 28 protesters who were trying to prevent construction equipment from entering the demolition site. The protesters accepted their arrests without resistance, posted bail and soon returned to the site.
The park, known in the community as Sherwood Forest, is a beloved community gathering place with cultural importance to Native Hawaiians. The city plans to build a $1.4 million park project there, as the first phase of what had been a $32 million masterplanned regional ball field complex with up to 470 parking spaces. City officials now say they will stop work when the first phase is completed.
On Saturday morning, singing and chanting, the protesters, many of them Native Hawaiians, said they wanted to respond strongly to a press conference held by Mayor Kirk Caldwell Thursday at Honolulu Hale, following the mass arrests. The mayor said he would push ahead with phase one of the project. He said that many people in Waimanalo still want the park built and that the city was committed to going forward.
The protesters said they intend to continue their opposition to the project.
“Iʻm shocked and dismayed with Mayor Caldwell,” said Waimanalo resident Archibald Kaolulo, one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Thursday opposing construction at the park, who called it a waste of taxpayer money. “I say this project is not essential, it’s not needed and itʻs not wanted by the people of Waimanalo. Mr. Mayor, we will hold you responsible.”
At the entrance to the park, volunteers have erected a staging area for the protest — stocked with bottled water, food and medical supplies — to support an extended vigil.
“For way too long we allowed development to push us out,” said protest leader Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo. “For way too long, we allowed money to determine how we live … The earliest remains from Hawaii come from this space … We canʻt allow them to erase us from history.”
Many people linked the protest a similar fight over a large telescope being constructed at Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Asked how many people in the group had participated in the protest there, about a third of the group raised their hands.
Among the people who gathered at the scene Saturday was renowned archaeologist Patrick Kirch, an expert on the dispersal of Polynesian peoples across the Pacific Ocean, who described the site as an historic burial area. He said the construction is located close to a place where the earliest-recorded carbon-dated Polynesian remains in the Hawaiian islands have been found and said the site was within a national historic district.
“Itʻs the oldest site that we know in Hawaii Nei,” he said on Saturday, noting the discovery there of early artifacts from the Marquesas Islands. “The dunes throughout the area, as in most dunes throughout Hawaii Nei, are burial places of the kupuna.”
After he spoke to the group, he entered the construction site accompanied by uniformed police officers. Within minutes, Kirch found items he said might be historically significant among the mounds of dirt piled high by construction crews.
Looking carefully at the construction debris on the site, which has been stripped of vegetation, Kirch pointed out to Honolulu police some items that he said provide “evidence of cultural activity.”
He handed a few such items to police officers monitoring the site and the protest area, and, as a handful of spectators watched, a policeman carefully wrapped them in a napkin and promised to report the finds to city officials.
Kirch declined to comment to Civil Beat about the issue.
Protesters who have observed activity at the site say the archaeologists formerly assigned to oversee the construction work were inattentive and allowed truckloads of material to be hauled away without adequate scrutiny.
Protester Kalani Kalima expressed disgust at what he called the city’s failure to investigate the site before beginning construction, noting that Kirch had located within 5 minutes what the city’s archaeologists did not find.
“They had these so-called monitors from California for months and they couldn’t find anything,” he said bitterly.
The city first began planning for a park project at the site about a decade ago. Officials held a series of thinly attended planning meetings and opponents say few people read the reports and environmental impact analysis that preceded approval. Now, it appears that large numbers of people in Waimanalo were unaware of the plan some people reacted angrily when the construction equipment arrived in April and began demolition work at the site, knocking down trees and clearing out foilage.
In June the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board voted 10 to 1 against the project.
More than 33,000 people have signed an online petition asking Caldwell to stop the project.
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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.