A day after Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell reaffirmed his ardent support for the construction project at Sherwood Forest, the mayor announced the discovery of iwi at the site and said work would be put on hold “indefinitely.”

Construction crews had just resumed excavation at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park on Monday morning after prolonged protests from community members. That afternoon, they found a 3-inch upper arm bone fragment within the project area, according to the mayor.

Caldwell announced the finding in the middle of a press conference about COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon.

“All work in the area of the fragment was stopped, in about a 100-foot area around the fragment,” he said. “Right now, construction continues in areas away from the bone fragment.”

Demonstrators walked by the construction site on Monday to express their displeasure that work was starting again on the project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The mayor said the city’s archeological firm would talk with the state’s historic preservation division and members of Save Our Sherwoods, a nonprofit opposed to the project, to discuss next steps.

Within hours, Caldwell posted a statement on his Facebook page stating he would put the project on ice.

He said the historic preservation division allows a project to move forward when there is an “inadvertent find,” as long as there is a protective buffer around the area and temporary protective measures are taken.

However, the mayor indicated his decision to halt the project had to do with COVID-19.

“My greatest concern is for the health and safety of our community,” he said. “I greatly support the first amendment rights of all members of our community, but I am greatly concerned with gatherings during this time. Therefore, in order to allow for people to focus on staying at home during this time, I am going to pause this project while we consult with the appropriate entities.”

It was a sharp reversal from Monday when he said he hadn’t considered shifting the project’s timeline due to the outbreak because “we live with the COVID-19 pandemic every day.” He noted that other construction projects are continuing and said perhaps it was “the proper time” to do construction because contractors need money in their pockets.

Save Our Sherwoods President Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo said the discovery of iwi kupuna in the area affirmed what the community already knew.

“With this confirmed finding, we urge the city to cease and desist from further desecration of our iwi kupuna by stopping the Phase 1 construction permanently,” he said in a statement. “We also expect the city will do everything in its power to protect the site to ensure the iwi remain undisturbed until the next steps are determined.”

He added that halting the project will prevent any large gatherings that could be triggered by additional construction work, “which would put unnecessary harm to our kupuna, children and families.”

In his written statement, Caldwell said the city will continue to consult with officials from historic preservation division and the Oahu Burial Council.

“I continue to believe this is a project that can be valuable to the future of the Waimanalo community,” the mayor said. “I urge everyone to continue to follow the stay at home order to keep yourselves and your family safe during this time.”

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