It’s a site of cultural importance in Leeward Oahu, but red tape is slowing its preservation

Hawaii News Now - January 20, 2019
By: 
Casey Lund

OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s a treasure trove of ancient Hawaiian history in West Oahu. But a bureaucratic standoff is threatening to derail its preservation.

A stockpile of contaminated soil and old military infrastructure has stopped development for a new cultural learning center.

The Kalaeloa Heritage and Legacy Foundation is now in a lease dispute with the state over how to get rid of the problem.

“These people here lived a subsistence lifestyle based on ocean resources,” Shad Kane, the Kalaeloa Herritage Park Manager said.

Long before it was brush land, a 77-acre parcel on the east side of the Kalaeloa airport was a military site. And long before that, some of the island’s first arrivals built homes.

“This is a period when there were Tahitians in this area,” Kane said. “This is representative of a house site - it’s unique that it is made out of coral and it’s made in a Tahitian fashion.”

Uncle Shad Kane is part of a small group of people working to preserve that history with the Kalaeloa Herritage and Legacy Foundation.

But here’s the twist: In 2015, when the Hawaii Community Development Authority leased this land to the non-profit, the agency required the foundation to remove large quantities of brush and old building material from decades ago when it served as a torpedo loading facility,

“Our understanding from HCDA was go and clean this area and we followed their direction," Dwight Victor, President of KHLF said. "Unfortunately, we didn’t know or understand that there were requirements such as having the correct permits and stuff.”

Because the group didn’t have the proper permits, fines from the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting reached about $300,000. Some of the stockpiles also tested positive for an asbestos based containment and can’t just be hauled away.

Now, the two parties are in a standoff.

HCDA has agreed to cover all costs of the remediation of the stockpile and pay all fines if the group surrenders its lease.

“If KHLF agrees to surrender General Lease ... During that time we won’t have the kind of access that we require in order to build any infrastructure because to do that you need to have a lease,” Victor said.

“It’s a catch 22 for us. We can’t really have the work that we are doing be done at the same time that we are trying to address the stockpile,” he added.

Senator Mike Gabbard has been helping to mediate the dispute.

“But we should not let that overcome the work that these guys are doing,” Sen. Gabbard said. “I was just very disappointed. I met with the HCDA and expressed my disappointment with them terminating the lease. I have been asking them to give them a little more time.”

The foundation is still hoping to cover the costs themselves and maintain their lease. Leaders expect to find out next week if they’ll get more time to broker a deal.
“It’s a call for action, we are asking for help. Volunteer help, donations, etc... anything that can help us,”, Victor said.