LIHUE — The heated civil trial over 17 acres of land in Wailua where the famed Coco Palms Resort once stood before it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki continued Friday with testimony from Noa Mau-Espirito, one of the two defendants in the matter.
Citing the United Nations Genocide Convention 260, from 1948, Mau-Espirito said the document lists crimes and activities that are violations of the convention.
“Many of the activities being done to me can be considered a form of war crime,” he said, because they are preventing him from living a subsistence lifestyle, which is genocide, because it’s taking away his food source.
As a person of Hawaiian descent, Mau-Espirito asked District Court Judge Michael Soong how he could give the rights on Coco Palms to developers Chad Waters and Tyler Greene, who don’t want to restore or preserve the land. He said he is more suitable to preserve the land than Coco Palms LLC.
“These guys claim they have possession of this property,” Mau-Espirito said. “The existing heir of Deborah Kapule exists right there,” he said, motioning toward co-defendant Kamu Hepa.
The title ownership, he said, is fictitious, because his cousin (Hepa), is the heir to Queen Deborah Kapule and the rightful owner of the land.
The property, Mau-Espirto said, was being pillaged, which is a war crime recognized by the U.S. Constitution, arguing a Supreme Court ruling that says the native tenants have rights to the land.
The land, Mau-Espirito said, holds cultural and religious significance to Native Hawaiians. He mentioned conservation and restoration he and his family have already started on the property, and concerns that the reconstruction of the hotel will have a negative impact on indigenous plants and several animals who live on the property that are endangered.
“How are they (Coco Palms Hui) more qualified to restore the land than I am?”
Wailua, Mau-Espirito said, was intended for the heirs and successors, and he is part of that.
Maintaining the status quo
Prior to the proceedings, Soong granted an injunction, filed by plaintiff’s attorney Wayne Nasser, to maintain the status quo of the property until the matter is decided. Nasser said they had been made aware of an event to remove wooden planks from the property.
“These kinds of things going on, it’s just improper, and what we’re asking for is an injunction signed by both parties that both parties do not farm or touch the land or move any fixtures, trees or what not until you decide the case,” Nasser said.
Mau-Espirito objected, stating their warranty deed is subject to certain conditions, and by submitting the injunction they would be violating those conditions.
“The rock, the sand, the trees, the wood, that’s all for the use of the tenants. Separate from title, we have rights there. We live on the property,” Mau-Espirito said as 60 people observed the proceeding.
The wood in question, said Mau-Espirito, isn’t from the property.
“If that is true, the proposed order wouldn’t impact you,” Nasser said.
Speaking to the court in Hawaiian, through an interpreter, Kamu Hepa confirmed the wood wasn’t from the Coco Palms site and was being used for cultural and spiritual practices.
“I take them at their word. The posting says remove slabs from the Coco Palms site,” Nasser said.
Soong granted the motion stating the property should remain status quo until the issue is decided.
Objecting to the injunction, Mau-Espirito maintained the ruling was discriminatory toward him and his family.
Soong said Mau-Espirito’s objection was noted, but the court has ruled that the injunction will stand, because the issue has yet to be decided.
“For the record, your honor, I’m going to object also, because how you going to say we can’t use nothing over there. Nothing has been made yet. A judgment never been made, ownership never been decided, the title and possession has never been decided.”
One piece of property, two ideas for development
In Wailua, Hepa, who says he is a descendent of Deborah Kapule, the last queen of Kauai, says he wants to develop the 17-acre parcel of land into a cultural center for the Kanaka Maoli-Lihue Nation.
There’s much to be done, but the fledgling farm is already off to a good start, boasting banana trees, pineapple plants, passion fruit plants, three kinds of taro and medicinal plants; one, he said can heal a broken bone and another can cure cancer.
There’s an imu for cooking. There are goats. There are chickens. He’s raising pigs that he’s planning to sell to local families.
He and his family have cleaned the stream that flows through the property. The stream, he said, provides three kinds of fish, including tilapia.
There are endangered waterfowl that nest on the property. They’ve cleared by hand two decades of overgrown brush and rubbish, but there’s still much to be done.
Eventually, he said, they’ll build homes in Wailua to house those in need. They’ll look like traditional homes on the outside, but will be modern on the inside.
He said they’re planning on building a culturally relevant school for children and a home for the elderly. The elders’ home, he said, will have a place for kupuna women to continue making traditional arts and crafts.
The land, he said, is for his people, and that’s why he’s fighting to keep it from being developed into a new Coco Palms resort.
The case has been testy at times. Last week, two people, Punohu Kekaualua and his mother, Debra Kekaualua, were told to leave the courtroom due to disrupting proceedings. When they returned later, a bailiff tried to physically remove the woman by picking her up, but then accidently dropped her.
Soong said Friday the two could return to the courtroom, but he warned that the court would not tolerate any disruptions.
The bailiff who dropped the woman last week was not in the courtroom.
Damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the famed resort lay in waste for nearly 20 years, with no one claiming ownership rights during public hearings about the matter, though several developers have previously attempted to reconstruct the hotel throughout the years.
Since 2012, Waters and Greene of Coco Palms Hui have been trying to develop the property, with the $3.5 million selective demolition process started in June 2017, and initial plans to begin phase II of the renovation and reconstruction scheduled for early this spring.
The $175 million project will boast about 400 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
Waters declined to comment Friday. Greene was not present.
Prior to the proceedings, Mau-Espirito told the court they will now be working with an attorney. Hepa asked Soong to remand the case to First Circuit Court. The trial has been continued to Jan. 9.