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Burial locations to be investigated in Ha‘ena

A group of concerned residents yesterday continued to fight for the protection of a sacred Hawaiian burial site where a home is being built on the North Shore.

Some 15 members of the newly formed ‘Ohana O Naue rallied at the Mo‘ikeha Building to urge the county Planning Commission to revoke California resident Joseph Brescia’s permits to build a house on his Ha‘ena lot where at least 30 ancient Hawaiian burials have been identified.

“We are in mourning,” Puanani Rogers, a kanaka maoli, said. “The iwi of our kupuna are an important part of who we are as a people … They are the reason why I am here today.”

The residents — some tearful, some frustrated, some holding cardboard signs protesting the “desecration” and calling for “respect” — asked the seven-member appointed body to review the burial treatment plan approved by the Kaua‘i Island Burial Council, an appointed arm of the state Historic Preservation Division.

James Huff, a long-time builder who has camped on the beach adjacent to the homesite for the past few months along with other residents trying to protect the iwi, said the commission was “betrayed” in issuing the permits.

He said his independent GPS research shows the burials identified in the burial treatment plan fail to align on the ground with the burials marked in the building plans, which were designed to have the footings avoid the known burials.

The commission unanimously voted to direct the county Planning Department to investigate the accuracy of the plans.

“Based on the information that was provided I think we have some things that we need to verify,” Planning Director Ian Costa said.

On June 24, Kaua‘i Police Chief Darryl Perry halted groundbreaking at the 11th hour, saying construction could violate a state law regarding desecration of burial sites.

After seeking clarification from the county attorney and the state attorney general, Perry said two weeks later that Brescia had not broken any law and that construction could commence.

The footings were poured, but work has reportedly been on hold.

A hearing for the lawsuit between the landowner and protesters is scheduled at 8 a.m., tomorrow, 5th Circuit Court.

Brescia and his attorney, Philip Leas, could not be reached for comment at press time.

“This is a really serious issue,” ‘Ohana O Naue member Hale Mawae, who is named in the lawsuit, told the commission. “If you don’t fix that mistake, you will live with that mistake.”

After noting his dissatisfaction with Commission Chair Steven Weinstein’s decision to remove the protest signs from the meeting room, Kilauea resident Andrew Cabebe said he feels the Hawaiian people are losing everything when buildings are permitted to be constructed on top of ancient graveyards.

“If I have to go back to that site to stop the building, I’m going to be there,” he said. “This can not go on anymore. This is our burial sites.”

The commissioners — including Herman Texeira, James Nishida, Stuart Hollinger and Camilla Matsumoto — made efforts during the meeting to show their willingness to find a solution to the problem that satisfies both sides.

They suggested increasing county inspections at the site and relocating the burials.

“It’s almost like we’re getting reports from something happening in a place we can’t see,” Matsumoto said.

Weinstein said the commission needs the information from the Planning Department’s investigation, which is expected to be completed in two weeks, in order to make a decision.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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