KAPAA — County Department of Public Works Building Division Chief Doug Haigh told a crowd of over 40 people at the Kapaa Public Library Saturday afternoon that the proposed 1.1-mile Waipouli connection of the multi-use path is a good thing for the Wailua/Kapaa community.
But not everyone present for Haigh’s presentation were very enthused.
“I disagree with everything they’ve said,” said Rupert Rowe, a Poipu resident and local activist. “They should’ve left the place alone.”
Rowe walked out of Haigh’s presentation after 25 minutes, in disbelief over what he was hearing about the Waipouli path, particularly when Haigh addressed the elephant in the room: sacred burial grounds.
“We’re going to disturb a lot of graves,” he said.
Haigh said that two burial grounds have been found, adding that the county was given approval for the way they went about finding the burial grounds back in 2014.
“We found two burials. One, I wasn’t too happy about because it went in our property and it wasn’t where our path was going to go,” Haigh said. “The archaeologist got confused. But we’re dealing with it. We found another one where the path is going to go, so we’re realigning the path. … We have a burial treatment plan that we submitted to DLNR and the Kauai/Niihau Burial Council reviewed it … they’re comfortable with the distances we’re making. We make every effort not to go over the burials.”
But what bothered Rowe was the fact that bodies are being found, regardless of how well the county is dealing with the situation.
“The bike path should not be built in that particular area,” Rowe said. “If they find 50 bodies, or even 200 bodies, when do you stop the project? If someone is rested for 200 or even 700 years, their families would have never thought they would be disturbed. When you shake the bones, then you shake the culture. The culture is the bones. When you do that, this whole thing is in the benefit for them.”
And by “them,” Rowe was talking about big industry.
“It’s in the benefit for our foreign persons coming here. Everything is geared towards tourism,” he said.
Puanani Rogers, a Kealia resident and local activist, was also fed up with Haigh’s speech and walked out before the presentation was finished.
“This is total (expletive),” she said. “It’s very frustrating. I didn’t like the idea of disinterring bones and putting them in a place surrounded by rocks. That’s not protecting it. They should’ve just left it alone where it was. I read the burial treatment ground of the Lydgate path, and I saw seven burial grounds. These are pre-contact, these are very ancient bones and they need to be respected.”
Haigh addressed some concerns over what the county does when burial grounds are discovered, saying that the right people are present whenever dirt is picked up from the ground. But he also said something that angered Rowe and Rogers.
“Cultural composites are different from burials,” Haigh said.
Cultural composites, as described by Haigh, could be anything from charcoal or old items found during construction projects. But Rowe felt that Haigh’s dismissal of such artifacts were disrespectful towards the Native Hawaiian community.
“When they used the term ‘culture deposit,’ they said charcoal and everything, it’s still culture. When you hear such a statement, it’s very disturbing,” he said.
Rogers said the area just won’t be the same if the 1.1-mile path is approved and constructed.
“They said that it will provide us with access, but it won’t be the same,” she said. “It won’t provide us with the ambience we have been enjoying for all these years, since our grandparents did that. I hate it when they say there were no findings of significant impacts. I don’t believe their reports, I don’t trust them. It always seems like a done deal already before they even give it to us.”
Two burial ground sites have been found, but Rowe said that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I believe that in this project, they’ll dig up more bones,” he said. “When they said that they inadvertently found bones, you already know there is a burial site before you even start the project. I got kind of irritated in there.”