Hillside development approval on Big Island hits wall of dissent
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer
A decision by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to allow home construction on the lower slopes of a hill in North Kona identified as an ancient Hawaiian burial site likely will end up in court.
Moses Haia, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., vowed yesterday to fight the action that allows the construction of a block wall around Pu'u Ohau at the 120-foot elevation, thus giving the developer of the luxury Hokuli'a subdivision the go-ahead to subdivide and develop five multimillion-dollar hillside lots.
Haia said the decision by land board Chairman Peter Young to allow the required wall construction at the 120-foot level rather than at the base of the hill will expose numerous burials to possible destruction and desecration.
The decision also violates DLNR's written agreement with the Protect Keopuka 'Ohana to follow what the Hawai'i Island Burial Council recommended in 1999, Haia said.
The hill lies in the center of the massive Hokuli'a development in Kealakekua, which has been the site of multiple disturbances of Hawaiian burials, as well as destruction of sections of the ancient Ala Loa trail and two violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The Protect Keopuka 'Ohana and a handful of individual plaintiffs, represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Kona attorney Robert Kim, sued developer 1250 Oceanside Partners for these numerous alleged violations of law in December 2000.
The current controversy revolves around a 1999 determination by the Hawai'i Island Burial Council that a 6-foot wall be built around the base of Pu'u Ohau. The whole hill was determined to be a burial site by the council and was to be protected, but the definition of the base has been in dispute.
Young could not be reached yesterday, but in a Jan. 28 letter to the developer, Young said his decision to permit the wall to be built at the 120-foot level was partially based on the desires of a family identified as the most direct descendent to the burials on the hill.
Haia said the burial council has recognized a different family that of Jim Medeiros as the senior line of descendants. Medeiros, president of the Protect Keopuka 'Ohana, has always lobbied for the wall at the base of the hill.
In his letter, Young also noted that the lower slopes were used for "general habitation purposes" and were not reserved for burials "or other ritual uses that might be considered exclusionary.''
Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney Alan Murakami said such areas often were used for burials.