Path’s plan not cut in stone

SUBHEAD: Will our Mayor agree with OHA recommendation to honor sacred spaces on Wailua Beach?  

By Michael Levine on 20 September 2009 in The Garden Island -  

Image above: Graphic simulation rendering of bike path route over beach. From TGI article.

 Long-standing plans to have Phase III of the Eastside’s multi-use coastal path run along Wailua Beach could be scrapped or adjusted after the Office of Hawaiian Affairs last week signaled a change of heart regarding the proposed route.

In a letter signed by OHA Administrator Clyde Namu‘o and sent to representatives of the county, state and federal governments on Sept. 8, the agency tasked with speaking on behalf of Native Hawaiians recommended that the proposed path “stay off of and away from the sacred sands of Wailua.”

“We are cognizant that subsurface cultural features, including human burial sites, could and do exist all throughout the Wailua area, including a more mauka alignment,” the letter said, “but the coastal area is truly a living phenomenon and the accretion, shifting and erosion of the beach at Wailua, along with its sacred designation, truly warrants the preservation of the open space there now unencumbered by man-made structures, no matter how seemingly ephemeral. “In summary, the Wailua area of Kauai is a truly unique and sacred traditional cultural landscape where important parts of pre-contact Hawaiian history occurred,” the letter said.

 “It also remains a very special and sacred wahi kupuna which serves to inspire our modern Native Hawaiian community and cultural practitioners as well as assist in the reconnection of the ‘opio, the youth, with both the ‘aina and with their kupuna kahiko.” Kai Markell, director of Native Rights, Land and Culture for OHA, explained in a phone interview Friday that a period of rediscovery and reawakening within the Hawaiian community and increased connectivity between its people and its treasured sites led to OHA’s new stance.

“We don’t want to deny people beautiful recreational activities and fresh air,” Markell said, “but a lot of beauty and aloha spirit originates in our ancestors ... and we see that disappearing every day.” The new position, which advocates for a mauka route near the existing cane haul road and behind the currently derelict Coco Palms resort, is a reversal of OHA’s 2004 stance upon which planners had relied when devising the path’s future.

 OHA’s original concerns about burials along the alternative “canal route” and the low likelihood of encountering burials on a shoreline that has accreted significantly in recent centuries contributed to the Finding of No Significant Impact in the path’s Environmental Assessment, said Thomas Noyes, secretary for the Kaua‘i Path Inc. Board of Directors, in an e-mail to The Garden Island just days before OHA’s revised Section 106 consultation.

In a phone interview Friday, Noyes said he expects the county to convene a stakeholders meeting in the near future to review the issues, but said Kaua‘i Path supports the work that’s already been accomplished in the planning and design phases and expects that the administration will continue to make progress on bringing the project to construction while ensuring that archaeological concerns are weighed. Mayor’s position ‘under review’

In an interview July 31 at his office, with a half-dozen of his deputies surrounding him, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho described the six-phase path that might one day connect the Eastside bookends of Anahola and Lihu‘e as “a critical project” encompassing transportation, recreation, healthy living and community that “brings people together.” Asked specifically about the cultural issues impacted by Phase III of the path, Carvalho said the county was “trying to be as sensitive as possible.”

“The concerns of the community — whether at the beginning, the middle, or the end — it’s important,” the mayor said. “It is our hope that we can complete the project being respectful and mindful of everyone’s concerns. ...

The key is to be able to listen and understand where they’re coming from and incorporate that into the final decision.” On Friday, Beth Tokioka, executive assistant to the mayor, said the mayor’s position on the direction of the project is “under review.” “The mayor is aware of the change in OHA’s position and feels that this position should be considered before we proceed,” Tokioka said in an e-mail. “The county is currently in discussions with the federal and state agencies involved with the project to determine a course of action in light of this new information.”

She said she had not heard of any plans to convene a stakeholders meeting. Native Hawaiian opposition The Lydgate-to-Kapa‘a segment of Ke Ala Hele Makalae (the Path that Goes by the Coast) had been increasingly on the public’s radar in the months since Phase II — linking Lihi Boat Ramp in central Kapa‘a and Ahihi Point in Kealia — opened to the public in late June. Approvals for spending, legal documents pertaining to adjacent properties and other seemingly small matters before the Kaua‘i County Council and Planning Commission had given opponents like Waldeen Palmeira of Hui Na Makaiwa o Wailuanuiaho‘ano as well as Jim Alalem and Sophronia Noelani Josselin ample opportunities to speak out publicly in defense of their sacred beach.

 “As kanaka maoli, we know the importance of respecting a highly historic, culturally important and sacred area,” Josselin said in testimony before the council that had been prepared by Palmeira. “Wailua is a highly historical and traditional cultural landscape of great importance to Native Hawaiians and all people. It is now threatened and, in fact, endangered due to this bike project.”

 In a interview on Statehood Day at the north end of Lydgate Park, not far from Hikinaakala Heiau, Palmeira, Alalem and Mahelani Sylva, who hosts KKCR’s Na Leo Hawaiian Issues radio show, spoke emotionally about the importance of ”the great sacred Wailua.” “It’s sort of where life emanates, mana emanates,” Palmeira said. “A lot of the civilization that was established was based on what was built here in Wailua.”

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: OHA - No path on Wailua Beach 9/17/09 .

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