HA‘ENA — As the dawn sun sent rays through stormy clouds yesterday morning on the North Shore, some 40 Kaua‘i residents of diverse backgrounds rallied on a sandy Ha‘ena beach to pray for Hawaiian ancestors buried at a nearby home site.
Landowner Joseph Brescia and Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis have plodded for several years down a winding road of government agencies to build adjacent beachfront homes on their Wainiha properties.
The pursuit has involved multiple court rulings, county Planning Commission denials and approvals, Kaua‘i Burial Council decisions and numerous house redesigns.
The route is now free of any legal barrier, but community resistance has risen.
Construction on Brescia’s narrow lot was rumored to start at 7 a.m. yesterday and residents showed up prepared to protest.
“This is beyond Hawaiian,” Anahola resident Mickey Sussman said. “This is the ultimate desecration. Human beings bury their remains. It’s what distinguishes us.”
For many who gathered at the site, it was about respect.
“Who would want to build their house on a known graveyard?” Gina Mears said.
Tamara Leonard, of Hanalei, agreed.
“As settlers of the island, it is our duty to practice and have respect for the host culture,” she said.
Wooden stakes labeled with numbers marked some 30 graves, or iwi, that archaeologists discovered last year during excavation.
Several concerned residents, who have camped at the beach fronting the property for at least the past several weeks, have erected small torches next to each stake and placed ti leaves on the property.
The community members strolled through the ancient cemetery yesterday morning. They stooped to pay their respects, paused to wipe away tears and hugged friends who have persisted in the once rural neighborhood despite its transformation over the years into mostly vacation rentals and luxury homes.
“I can’t stop crying,” said Linda Derohan, who has lived in Wainiha for 40 years. “I don’t even have the words for it. Whether you’re Hawaiian or not, if your heart is there, your heart is there.”
Brescia’s contractor, Ted Burkhardt, showed up some time after 9 a.m. but left with his crew without performing any work at the site.
Lady Ipo came with an assistant soon after his arrival to conduct a blessing for the house, but left after a reportedly emotional conversation with some of the residents who were protesting.
The Kaua‘i Police Department arrived later in the morning, but left without making any arrests.
Kaua‘i Police Chief Darryl Perry said his officers responded to a complaint concerning possible trespassing by Ka‘iulani Edens-Huff, who has laid claim to the land by royal patent.
She has been one of the residents leading the charge in “defending the sacred site from desecration.”
There was a demonstration by a number of individuals in support of Huff. The officers arrived at the scene and “abated the situation,” Perry said.
The chief said his officers are in the process of determining who rightfully owns the property before deciding on a course of action.
“Everything was kept very mellow and respectful and pono,” said Eastside resident Andrea Brower, who took part in the early morning prayers and Hawaiian chants.
The protesting group dispersed around 11:15 a.m., according to resident Katy Rose.
Brescia, a California-based contractor who also lives on the North Shore, hung up on The Garden Island after being asked on the phone Monday to offer his side of the story.
Walton Hong, his attorney, has said his client has been trying to build a house on the land he legally owns since 2001 but has been delayed by environmentalists’ “stall tactics.”
The county Planning Commission on Dec. 11, 2007 approved with certain conditions Brescia’s application for a single-family residence on Wainiha Subdivision Lot 6.
He has told the commission multiple times that he will “do the right thing.”
The burial council, whose authority is limited to deciding whether the burials should remain in place or be moved to another location, voted on April 3 that the graves should stay where they are.
Burial councilwoman Barbara Say said at the council’s Feb. 7 meeting that Brescia should just cut his losses and return the parcel to the state and the Hawaiians.
Local attorney Harold Bronstein, who won two related state Supreme Court cases representing Hanalei resident Caren Diamond and the North Shore ‘Ohana nonprofit, has challenged Brescia’s proposed home for several years on legal grounds.
The landowner in 2002 had requested an amendment or variance from the county to build within 31 feet of the shoreline. County law required a 40-foot minimum setback with an option to appeal up to 20 feet.
After the commission denied his application on June 10, 2003, and his subsequent request for reconsideration, Brescia appealed to the 5th Circuit Court.
He won there in a March 4, 2005, decision partly because he claimed he could not make reasonable use of his property if the setback was imposed.
When the county let that decision stand, Diamond and the North Shore ‘Ohana picked it up with Bronstein and carried it to the state Supreme Court, where it was overturned two years later.
But in the meantime, the commission gave Brescia the go-ahead to build his house. Construction stopped soon thereafter when excavation uncovered human remains.
A March 20, 1991, letter to then-county Planning Director Peter Nakamura from state Historic Preservation Division Administrator Don Hibbard details concerns then over the Wainiha subdivision.
“We believe that an archaeological inventory survey would be needed on these properties and quite possibly mitigation work would be needed prior to any construction in the area,” Hibbard says. “Otherwise, any construction clearly could have an ‘adverse effect’ on significant historic sites and burials.”
Historic burials are often discovered in the state, particularly in sandy areas.
Hong said last month that Brescia is “trying to do everything he can to be respectful.”
A shoreline setback case that local environmentalists eventually won in 2005 at the state Supreme Court, along with other reasons, have forced Brescia to move the proposed house site farther from the coast four times and redesign it 15 times, Scientific Consulting Services senior archaeologist Michael Dega told the burial council in February.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org