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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Land trust acquires South Kona site

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HONAUNAU, Hawai'i — The Trust for Public Lands has averted plans for a subdivision in a culturally sensitive area by obtaining 238 acres in South Kona that contain hundreds of archaeological sites.

The nonprofit group hopes to sell the land, which includes the former trading and fishing village of Ki'ilae, to the National Park Service to expand Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, 22 miles south of Kailua.

Teresa McHugh, Hawai'i project manager for the trust, said the group stepped in to buy the property from McCandless Ranch while Congress authorizes money for the acquisition. The sale price was not revealed, but federal appraisers valued the land at $4.6 million.

McHugh said the trust looks at purchasing land not only for environmental reasons, but for cultural and recreational purposes as well.

"This definitely had the cultural values," she said. "This is a fascinating place with many features of the village proper still visible."

National Park Service archaeological surveys show Ki'ilae is rich with domicile platforms and rock walls. A key trading point for Hawaiians, Ki'ilae remained inhabited until the 1930s when road patterns directed activity away from the area.

Martin Quill of Maui's CMI Development acquired development rights to the former grazing land and was planning to subdivide it into five-acre residential lots, according to county planners. Quill could not be reached for comment.

Former state legislator Virginia Isbell, who helped organize an advisory group concerned about preserving Ki'ilae, said the acquisition means the job of preserving the area is "only half done." She and her husband, Don, a retired schoolteacher, have been e-mailing dozens of people to urge them to push for congressional action.

"This property is rich in history and provides important clues about ancient Hawaiian life," their message said.

With congressional approval, the 238 acres would be added to the 180-acre Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, formerly known as the City of Refuge.

Until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who violated kapu could avoid an otherwise certain death sentence by fleeing to the pu'uhonua, or place of refuge. They could then be absolved by a priest and go free. Defeated warriors and noncombatants also found refuge there during times of battle.

The grounds just outside the great wall that encloses the pu'uhonua was home to several generations of powerful chiefs.