(Source: Star Advertiser)
The city will halt further work on its contentious improvements project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park until it hears back from the State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council about an object that was found at the site over the weekend, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Tuesday.
The council is slated to take up the matter at its Oct. 9 meeting.
The city will make a presentation and the council will make a recommendation to SHPD.
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, the council’s chairwoman, said the council doesn’t have much decision-making power regarding whether the project goes forward, but if a burial site were to be discovered at the location, the council would be able to approve or reject a plan for how it should be handled.
“In an abundance of caution … we’ve reported it to SHPD and we’ll hear what they have to say,” Caldwell said. “We’ll wait to see what they have to say and then move forward at that time. We’re going to follow all the protocols and make sure everything was done properly.”
It’s unclear how long it will take for SHPD to respond to the city, the mayor said.
The $1.43 million project calls for a multipurpose field, an 11-stall parking lot, and a playground at the park, which is commonly called Sherwood Forest. The project is supposed to be completed by the end of November, followed by a period of about two months to allow for the grass and trees to develop, Caldwell said.
“Because we’re making sure we’re doing everything properly, we won’t go until we hear back from SHPD,” he said. “That may delay the completion by a bit.”
The plan is considered Phase 1 of a larger Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan, which has been fiercely opposed by the nonprofit Save Our Sherwoods and others who contend the area contains burial remains of native Hawaiians.
The city said no remains have been found at the site, a statement backed by SHPD late Tuesday.
Save Our Sherwoods last week filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city, state and federal governments contending that the project is in violation of the conditions agreed to when the U.S. government gave funding to the state for improvements at the 75-acre site.
The protest has gotten tense at times. Last Thursday, 28 people were arrested for blocking police and construction equipment from entering the site. Work resumed after the last protester was carried off the road.
On Tuesday night, more than two dozen people with signs protested near the entrance to the Waialae Country Club where Caldwell’s campaign committee was holding its first fundraiser.
Earlier Thursday, Caldwell announced the temporary stoppage while responding to questions posed by reporters following an unrelated press conference.
“I don’t think there’s any work going on right now,” Caldwell said.“My understanding is that there’s no activity out there today and there’ll be no activity until we get a report back from SHPD.”
Caldwell said he met with experts Monday who said they have not even been able to determine if the object found was an artifact and, if so, if it’s significant enough to halt the project.
“Finding an artifact doesn’t mean you cannot proceed,” he said.
He said he met with the city archaeologist and an expert from the University of Hawaii who determined the object to be “a piece of basalt of a lava dike that was chipped from somewhere else and probably brought there.”
It’s possible that it was brought there in the 1970s when the military used the area for housing. “A lot of fill was brought in before they put the housing down and it could have come from there but they’re not certain,” Caldwell said.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, SHPD’s parent agency, issued a press release late Tuesday confirming and expanding on Caldwell’s comments about the object.
Four SHPD staff members, including Archaeological Branch Chief Susan Leebo and two professional archaeologists from Pacific Legacy, the city’s archaeological contractor, visited the Waimanalo site to determine what, if anything had been found, the release said.
“A preliminary analysis of the ‘artifact’ indicates that it is a basalt fragment — a dike stone of unknown origin. It exhibits a flake scar that could be a result of human activity or that is equally likely to be natural breakage,” DLNR said.
Any ground-disturbing work at the project has been monitored by Pacific Legacy archaeologists in accordance with a SHPD-approved Archaeological Monitoring Plan (AMP), the release said.
“No intact cultural features or horizons have been encountered. No iwi kupuna have been discovered, disturbed, or moved,” DLNR said.
The monitors so far have “collected glass bottles and bottle fragments post-dating 1940, as well as one pig bone and one bird bone, both of which are recent in origin,” the release said.