State approved permits to bulldoze ancient sites
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By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — A portion of a North Kona archaeological site apparently has been bulldozed, possibly destroying a suspected heiau, agricultural terraces and other features on a site where ancient Hawaiians were living about 1,000 years ago, according to two archaeologists familiar with the incident.
Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, said the damage to the five-acre Pua'a 2 Agricultural Fields Archaeological District site is a particular concern since it is on the National Register of Historic Places, something only reserved for the best sites. The site is also on the state register of historic places, the official list of the state's cultural resources.
Dye last month asked the state to investigate reports that the Pua'a site had been destroyed.
"The first thing, they have to try to figure out when this happened and how it happened, how it could have happened, so that they can make sure that it doesn't happen again in the future," said Dye, whose organization has about 200 members and represents professional archaeologists in the state.
Paul Rosendahl, a consulting archeologist whose firm surveyed the property on behalf of the owners in 2005, said he has concluded based on records and the field report from his staff that the site was destroyed sometime between 1985 and 2005.
The property is owned by Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee, and the site might have been damaged in the course of grubbing and grading on 15 acres at the mauka end of the property in 2000 to clear land to plant coffee, Rosendahl said.
However, Rosendahl said Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee is "entirely blameless" because the State Historic Preservation approved grading and grubbing permits as well as other permits necessary to do the work, despite records showing an archaeological site on the property.
Brian Holt, the farm manager for Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee LLC, said grubbing or grading permits issued for the property in 2000, 2003 and 2006 were all approved by State Historic Preservation officials.
"Everything we've done up here has been by the book, per permits by the county," he said. "I don't know any other way to do it."
Holt said he has worked on the property for about two years, and was not overseeing the farm project during the 2000 grading and grubbing.
Grading and grubbing permits for clearing land are issued by the counties, but State Historic Preservation Division officials must approve each permit. That system is supposed to give the preservation staff an opportunity to review each project to make sure the land clearing will not affect known archaeological sites.
The site included a half-dozen or more platforms that were 6 feet tall, but Rosendahl said it may not have been obvious to a bulldozer operator operating in an overgrown area that the elevated areas were archeological features.
"The real question is how did it pass the SHPD review for that grading permit," Rosendahl said. Dye and Rosendahl said they could not recall any other case where a site on the national historic registry was bulldozed.
The State Historic Preservation Division sent two state archaeologists to inspect the site after receiving complaints earlier this year that it had been destroyed, said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Ward said a summary of the report filed by the inspectors describes damage to a portion of the site in 1995. However, "not all of it was destroyed."
Historic Preservation Division Administrator Melanie Chinen did not respond to requests for information on the findings of the inspection.
Ward added there are "certain extenuating circumstances" that complicate efforts to determine how much of the site was damaged at that time. Ward said she was not authorized yesterday to release the entire report or any additional information.
SITE "GONE" YEARS AGO
Dye, of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, said he discussed the condition of the Pua'a 2 site with Adam Johnson, the assistant O'ahu archaeologist and one of the two experts Historic Preservation sent to inspect the Big Island site. Dye said Johnson told him after his inspection for the state that the national historic registry site is "gone," and had apparently been bulldozed years ago.
Johnson has since resigned from the Historic Preservation Division, and was unavailable for comment.
The 2000 grubbing and grading permit covering the mauka portion of the property was signed by then-Big Island Assistant Archaeologist Marc Smith. Smith has since left the historic Preservation Division, and was unavailable for comment.
The 2006 grubbing permit was approved by Chinen, the historic division administrator, on the basis of a property survey by Rosendahl's staff that found no archaeological features in the mauka portions of the property or in any of the areas to be graded.
Sharon Wood, who with her husband owns the property and Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee LLC, said she was unaware that any part of the land they have been clearing for their coffee farm was on the National and State Register of Historic Places, and said state officials never notified her of any problem with any archaeological site on the 35-acre parcel.
The owners designated a portion of the property as a preservation zone in an application for a 2006 grading permit because there were archaeological features there, but Rosendahl said those features are some distance from the national register site.
"For our farm, any area that has been cleared for coffee has been examined ahead of time by an archeologist, and actually prior to clearing, the archeologist came back and flagged off any area that was in question, and any area that was in question was completely untouched, uncleared, no problem whatsoever," Woods said. "Even recently a state archaeologist was there, and everything's fine."
COULD IT HAPPEN AGAIN?
The Pua'a 2 Agricultural Fields Archaeological District was added to the national register of historic places in 1986 after the site was mapped and documented by researcher Carol Kawachi for her master's thesis in anthropology at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.
Critics of the State Historic Preservation Division have warned the Historic Preservation Division staff is overwhelmed by the workload, a problem that had been aggravated when positions for archaeologists have remained vacant.
Those and other problems in the division became an issue in confirmation hearings for former DLNR Director Peter Young last month. Young lost his job when the state Senate refused to confirm his appointment.
The possible damage at Pua'a 2 raises those issues again, particularly since the two State Historic Preservation Division archaeologist positions on the Big Island are now vacant, Dye said.
"How do we keep this from happening when the division has no staff?" Dye asked. "The staff is depleted. ... There's nobody on the Big Island, and we're really concerned that this kind of thing is going to happen again."
Reach Kevin Dayton at email@example.com.
Correction: Melissa Kirkendall, state archaeologist for Maui, Lana'i and Kaho'olawe, did not participate in a state inspection of the damage to the Pua'a 2 Agricultural Fields Archaeological District. A previous version of this story said Kirkendall was present for the inspection. Also, a graphic on the Pua'a 2 site should have said state officials believe the site was damaged in 1995. The graphic gave an incorrect date.