The Garden Island
1. Beached whales
Five whales died after beaching themselves at Kalapaki Beach in October. As sad as it was, a strong volunteer response to push them back to deep water in effort to save them united visitors and locals.
At least seven pilot whales beached at Kalapaki. Five were herded away from shore, two died that morning and three washed ashore in the afternoon and evening. It was reported there were nearly 20 pilot whales in the area.
Mass strandings, of two or more whales, like this are rare on Kauai. The last one was in 2004 in Hanalei Bay.
Pilot whales, because of their social nature and tight ohana groupings, mass strand more than any other species.
It has not been determined what caused the beaching.
According to the necropsy findings, four of the whales were mature — which is older than 9 for pilot whales — and one male was immature. The largest whale was a 14.4-foot male and the smallest was a 9.5-foot female.
The whales didn’t have any infectious diseases.
Some questioned whether military activity in the area might have played a role, or if the dropping of rodenticide on Lehua Island in late August and early September could have affected the whales.
But military officials said there was no activity in the area and no detectable levels of rat poison were found in the five pilot whales that died.
It could take a year for the picture to fill in, scientists say, and a case is never truly closed since samples are archived and can be tested at later dates.
2. Coco Palms dispute
Plans to develop the old Coco Palms site into a new resort are tied up in a legal dispute over ownership of the property.
Coco Palms Hui Chad Greene and his partner, Chad Waters, have been trying to restore Coco Palms since 2012. The resort closed in 1992 after it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki.
The $3.5 million selective demolition process began in June. Crews were initially expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms this spring.
The $175 million project will boast about 400 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
But a group of Native Hawaiians say they have historical and genealogical rights to the land they’ve been occupying for nearly a year. The case is currently in district court before Judge Michael Soong.
Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu Hepa have testified to their family’s rightful ownership to the land.
3. Lehua Island rats
Four months after the finish of the Lehua Island rat eradication project, no signs have been found of the invasive Pacific rats on the 279-acre island, about 36 miles west of Kauai.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, Island Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife project to create a seabird nesting sanctuary on Lehua Island began five years ago with planning and three community meetings on Kauai.
Three applications of the restricted use pesticide diphacinone were delivered to the island from a helicopter, encased in rat bait pellets that were made of cereal — on Aug. 23, Aug. 30 and again in September.
It was opposed by some community members and by Rep. Dee Morikawa, who voiced concerns about the poison contaminating the surrounding environment and food chain upon which Hawaiian families rely to survive.
Days after the second drop, on Sept. 5, staff members with the Lehua Island Restoration Project collected about 45 dead mullet-type fish and two dead birds from Lehua tide pools.
On Nov. 27, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services/National Wildlife Research Center reported the samples taken from the 45 mullet- type fish were in a “severely degraded condition, making it impossible to determine” whether they were affected by the diphacinone.
But conservation officials are pleased with early results on the island.
“So far, we’ve seen no signs of rats anywhere on the island, which is a stark difference from trips before the rat eradication work began,” said Andre Raine of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.
“This year we have lots of albatross out here which is great; about 145,” Raine said.
4. Hokulea visits Kauai
In September, the voyaging canoe Hokulea, recently back home from its three-year Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, was greeted by hundreds on boats and boards, and watching from the Hanalei Pier. Even a pod of dolphins and a monk seal watched.
“It’s everything I dreamed it was going to be,” said crew member Moku Chandler, born and raised on Kauai. “You never really know what to expect, but I just knew that there’s something else that’s in charge.”
Hokulea’s journey took it 40,000 nautical miles and to about 150 ports worldwide. Crew members met with people around the globe.
Joy, love, forgiveness, caring for each other — all were expressed when Hokulea and sister canoe Hikianalia arrived for the first of its three-day stay on Kauai.
A crowd of keiki to kupuna filled the Hanalei Pier, where the canoes were docked, to watch a spirited, heartfelt ceremony that included hula, chants, blessings, lei and gifts.
Madeline Guyett of Kilauea made lei for each canoe, and quietly offered prayers as she left them.
“I got chicken skin for sure during the protocols,” she said. “I feel a lot of pride in this culture — Hokulea is such an important part of the culture.”
The Kauai port stop and outreach events were planned by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and coordinated by local community members and supporters as part of the Mahalo, Hawaii Sail, an extension of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. The sail includes similar visits to every major Hawaiian island into 2018.
5. Kalalau sweeps
Fewer people are squatting in Kauai’s Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park after a crackdown by the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ division of conservation and resources.
“Clearly, our focus on enforcing permit rules for the Kalalau area is having the desired result,” said Robert Farrell, enforcement chief.
DLNR said in November the Kalalau section of the park is in its best shape in decades.
The latest enforcement sweep happened Nov. 14 and officers arrested three unpermitted campers as opposed to the dozens commonly found daily by enforcement officers two years ago. Officers also dismantled a squatter camp on Nov. 14 that DLNR says is an example of the tenacity of some of those living in the valley.
Over the past 24 months, hundreds of people have been arrested in the Kalalau Beach and Valley areas.
Most of those illegal campers were given a citation and ordered to appear in court, according to DLNR, and a few were taken into custody and transported to jail.
Dedicated enforcement for the area isn’t in the DOCARE budget, and the unannounced operations were due to an increase of dedicated resources to cleaning up the Kalalau, Farrell said.
“It’s a proactive approach,” he said.
Protection of Kalalau’s history and its place in Native Hawaiian culture is also imperative and could be one of the functions of a permanent staffer in the park, Cottrell and Farrell said.
6. River water returns
After more than 100 years, water is being returned to the Waimea River.
In April, the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management approved a mediated settlement reached in a complaint that “will immediately restore continuous flows in the Waimea River, as well as provide the opportunity for a renewable energy project, water for Hawaiian homesteading, and farming,” according to a release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The decision is in regards to a complaint made by Poai Wai Ola/West Kauai Watershed in 2013 against the state-run Agribusiness Development Corporation and the Kekaha Agriculture Association, claiming too much water was being diverted from the Waimea River.
“Today’s agreement ensures, that for the first time in over 100 years, life-giving water will once again flow continuously in Waimea River, from mauka (mountain) to makai (sea), which is vital for the health of the river and our community,” said Galen Kaohi, president of Poai Wai Ola.
Under the agreement, tens of millions of gallons of water will be restored to the river daily; water that is currently being diverted through a system of ditches built in the early 1900s.
7. Post office to close
The Rice Street post office will be closing its doors. The U.S. Postal Service made the announcement in December, after it spent nearly a year considering the decision. It did not give a date of the closure.
The post office will be relocated to the annex near the Lihue Airport.
Kauai residents learned about the potential relocation of the Rice Street post office on Jan. 26, when a memo was posted at the location.
The idea was met with resistance from community members, who pointed to the location’s convenience and the 1939 building’s status on the Hawaii State Register and the National Register of Historic Places as reasons for preserving the location.
Several community meetings were held and hundreds of comments were sent into the post office — by October the total was up to 545 letters and more than 100 coconuts from Kauai residents, stating their opinion.
Oppositions also came from elected officials, including Sens. Brian Schatz and Marie Hirono, and Gov. David Ige.
The current $13 million renovation of Rice Street was a big reason many Kauai residents didn’t want the post office moved, and in meetings several people pointed out the move works against the spirit of the project.
A letter dated Oct. 26 seeking signatures opposed to the closure of the Rice Street post office was being circulation by the group, “Save Our Lihue Post Office.”
It referred to the post office as “an integral component of town life.”
8. Solar farm
In March, Kauai became home to the largest integrated solar and battery facility in the world.
The 52 MWh Tesla Powerpack plus SolarCity solar farm is the first utility scale solar-plus-battery storage system of its kind, and will bring Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s renewable energy generation to more than 40 percent.
“This was such an innovative project, nobody else was doing this when we sat down and started in 2014 with the concept,” said KIUC CEO David Bissell at a blessing held for the solar farm.
KIUC landed on the idea of the solar farm as a way to expand its renewable energy focus, according to Jan TenBruggencate, president of the KIUC Board of Directors.
“In 2014 KIUC sought to balance its expanding renewable energy portfolio with dispatchable renewable power generation,” TenBruggencate said. “At the time, there were no large-scale solar-plus systems in operation anywhere in the United States.”
Solar City and KIUC started conversations about the project over the course of 2015, after initial responses to requests for proposals proved to not be financially feasible.
The result was a 2015 Solar City and KIUC purchase power agreement for a 13-megawatt solar project, coupled with a 52-megawatt power battery system.
Tesla came on board in February 2016 when Solar City selected the company to supply the 52-megawatt power pack lithium ion battery system.
9. Rally for rights
More than 1,500 people gathered at the corner of Ahukini Road and Kapule Highway in January to stand in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, which was organized to send a message to the new presidential administration on its first day of office that the voice of women and minorities across the country cannot be ignored. They also marched to show that women’s rights are human rights.
The march on Washington was the brainchild of Theresa Shook, a Maui resident who went on Facebook the night Donald Trump was elected president, saying women should march on D.C.
That idea spread not only across the Mainland but around the globe. According to womensmarch.com, 673 sister marches were organized across the country and in almost 80 countries around the world.
On the Garden Isle, downpours of rain and high, gusty winds didn’t deter marchers.
For two hours, a peaceful crowd lined up along both sides of Ahukini Road, holding signs bearing messages like “Overcome, not comb over,” “Girls just want to have fundamental rights,” and “My will is stronger than your hate.” Demonstrators were met with honks and shouts of support from the cars driving past.
For Denise Kaufman of Kilauea, the event was special because it showed how many people were fighting for the same things.
“This affirms we all care about the same things,” she said. “We need to strengthen our community and band together to take action in times of challenge.”
10. Zuckerberg suits
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped several lawsuits that could have potentially forced thousands of Native Hawaiians and kamaaina to lose inherited land.
In a guest commentary provided exclusively to The Garden Island in January, Zuckerberg announced he was “dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach.”
In the letter, Zuckerberg expressed regret for filing eight quiet title lawsuits on about a dozen parcels of kuleana land on his 700-acre estate in Kilauea.
“We understand that for Native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult,” he wrote. “We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach.”
On Dec. 30, three companies owned by Zuckerberg — Pilaa International LLC, Northshore Kalo LLC and High Flyer LLC — filed lawsuits involving over 100 people who have some claim to kuleana land on about a dozen parcels on Zuckerberg’s property.
Kuleana lands are parcels granted to Native Hawaiian tenant farmers between 1850 and 1855, according to the “Ua koe ke kuleana o na kanaka.” The land is inherited by descendants of the initial buyer with or without them knowing.
Zuckerberg said he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, reconsidered after hearing an outcry from the community and learned about the cultural significance of the land.
“The land is made up of a few properties in Waipake, Pilaa, and several kuleana within them,” he wrote. “As this community knows, the history of this land is complex. Many of you have shared your families’ stories, and we want to honor their history.”
In 2014, Zuckerberg purchased 700 acres of Kilauea land for about $100 million. The Pilaa Beach property, which consists of about 390 acres, was bought from Pflueger Properties. The other piece, Kahuaina Plantation, is 357 acres of a former sugar cane plantation.
Zuckerberg said he and Chan wish to preserve the land from major development, and large portions of the land will be maintained for farming by the community.
“We are committed to being good stewards of this beautiful land,” he said. “We hope to build a home for our family here.”
The parcels in question emerged during land reforms that the Kingdom of Hawaii pursued in the 1800s called “the Great Mahele.” Until then, no individual owned land; it was collectively cared for and used. The reforms allowed commoners to claim title to land they lived on and farmed, usually about a half-acre. But only a small share of Hawaii’s land — some 28,000 acres — ended up in the hands of commoners. Millions of acres went to the king, royals and the government.