After seven years of trying to build a home on the North Shore, landowner Joseph Brescia recently announced, in a statement released June 24 by his attorney, he would consider offers for his property in Ha‘ena.
“I am not wealthy enough to abandon as a charitable donation the more than a million dollars of my family savings nor the more than seven years invested toward our home,” Brescia said in the statement. “If there is anyone or any organization willing to pay for the property, I am willing to listen.”
From his understanding, Brescia said that the state and/or Kaua‘i County have the ability to step in and purchase, at fair value, properties which have cultural and historic value to the community.
“It’s unrealistic for him to walk away,” said Walton Hong, Brescia’s attorney.
Keone Kealoha of Malama Kaua‘i said there is a gap in the policy regarding burial sites and the state should figure out a way to fill in that gap.
“I think they (the state) need to step in and do something,” Kealoha said. “The state has the ability to pick up this parcel, put it in a burial trust and create a burial policy.”
Kealoha said he would be willing to meet with Brescia and his attorney to help figure out a solution.
“The first (solution) is immediate and provides that the location will remain a cemetery in perpetuity, as it was intended,” Kealoha said in a written statement. “The second seeks to proactively resolve similar situations in the future through policy change.”
In the statement, Kealoha suggested that state legislators and administrators work with the community to develop a more comprehensive policy to handle burials in a more sensitive manner.
Brescia has been fighting to begin construction on his property since 2001. A majority of the delays have been legal in nature, including a shoreline setback case won by local environmentalists in 2005 in the state Supreme Court.
Brescia claims he did not know about the burials on his property when he purchased the land in 1999. But after later learning about the possibility of graves in Ha‘ena, he said excavations were done in the presence of an archaeologist.
After approximately 30 graves, or iwi, were found on his property last year, Brescia asked the burial council for permission to move seven burials that would be impacted by his home.
In April, the Kaua‘i Island Burial Council voted 4-2 that the graves must all be left in place in order for him to build a residence. Brescia would also have to change the burial treatment plan for the property.
Since acquiring the property, Brescia has had to move the house farther from the beach four times and redesign the house 15 times, Scientific Consulting Services senior archaeologist Michael Dega told the burial council in February.
The final approved house will use less than one-fourth of the lot.
Work on Brescia’s property was set to begin last week, but at the last minute, Kaua‘i Police Chief Darryl Perry stepped in and said construction could be in violation of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes.
Perry said that until there was a decision from a higher power, and as far as the police department was concerned, construction on the property would not begin.
For now, construction is halted with no immediate timeline as to when it will begin, if ever.
Walton Hong, Brescia’s attorney, said it was “premature to comment on that now.”
“I was disappointed that Kaua‘i Police Chief Perry took it upon himself to treat any work done on my property as a violation of Section 711-1107 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statues, and interrupted and halted the work planned,” Brescia said. “The law was obviously designed to punish those persons who desecrate burials without authorization.”
HRS 711-1107(b) defines worship or burial site desecration as “defacing, damaging, polluting, or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the defendant knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the defendant’s action.”
“Any work on my property will be done in full compliance with the burial plan which was approved by the State Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources,” Brescia said.
Brescia said he and his attorneys are proceeding with the necessary steps to resume construction.
“I am very sorry we find ourselves in this situation,” Brescia said. “I do not wish anyone any harm, and have no disrespect for any person, living or dead.”
• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.