A Kilauea organization is leading a coalition of community groups in an effort to raise funds to purchase the Hawaiian burial ground at Naue point in Wainiha, a press release issued Tuesday states.
The effort has been seeded with a $75,000 pledge from an anonymous donor, according to Keone Kealoha, executive director of Malama Kaua‘i, a nonprofit organization.
The 15,000-square-foot oceanfront site has been the subject of ongoing controversy that began with shoreline setback issues and drew further community concern when some 30 Hawaiian burial sites were found. Landowner Joseph Brescia has been stalled several times in his plans to construct a single-family residence.
“We believe that purchasing the site is the best way to ensure that the iwi kupuna (Hawaiian ancestral bones) are allowed to peacefully remain in place,” Kealoha said in the statement. “The purchase also would provide the community with coastal open space and help to prevent beach erosion by allowing the natural cycles of ocean and sand movement to occur unhindered by development.”
While no purchase price has been identified, Brescia has indicated that he will consider offers for the site. In a statement released by his attorney on June 24, it was noted that Brescia has invested over $1 million in the project thus far.
Kealoha provided public testimony regarding the iwi and Malama Kaua‘i’s proposal at the September meeting of the Governor’s Kaua‘i Community Advisory Council on Thursday evening, attended by Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Laura Thielen.
One potential source of funding, Governor Linda Lingle, is not quite ready to commit.
“It would be a legislative action that would need to happen. She (Lingle) couldn’t just do it alone, because the legislature would have to approve that funding,” said Laurie Yoshida, Lingle’s Kaua‘i Liaison, yesterday. “She could propose it, but it would have to be a legislative action. At this point, we don’t have enough information.”
“We could certainly request that the governor support such a thing,” said Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, a member of the Advisory Council. “Our normal procedure is to let the issue play out. If they ask for direct help, we certainly can respond by encouraging the governor to participate in the process directly.”
Construction on the home has begun despite ongoing protest from a variety of Native Hawaiian, environmental, and other community groups. Seven burials that will remain directly under the house have been capped in concrete jackets.
However, in a ruling Monday, 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe found that the State Historic Preservation Division failed to property consult with the Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council, descendants of the burials, Hawaiian community groups and Brescia before approving the final burial treatment plan for the project.
The judge ordered the state to conduct the proper consultations and take the matter back to the Burial Council for further review. Council actions could include having the concrete caps removed from the iwi, ordering visitation access to the burials and having the burials under the house removed and re-intered elsewhere.
“We have a window of opportunity to move forward on this before additional construction and disturbance of the iwi occurs,” Kealoha said.
Funds to purchase the property are being collected by Malama Kaua‘i so that donors can take advantage of the tax benefits, the statement explained.
“We welcome all pledges, large and small,” Kealoha said in the statement. “However, to show the landowner that we are serious, additional large pledges are needed soon.”
Kealoha said in a phone interview yesterday that he has reached out to various government groups and that he felt progress was being made.
“Momentum is starting to build. I’ve gotten a lot of calls about it, and we got three more pledges yesterday,” he said. “It’s certainly not a dormant issue.”