Eleven sets of iwi kupuna discovered in the "footprint" of the planned Safeway store at the future Maui Lani Center could be relocated to a large on-site burial preserve.
That plan was presented Wednesday to the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council by the developer's archaeologist, Wailuku-based Archaeological Services Hawaii. The role of the council is to offer recommendations and a public forum on the the burial plan to the State Historic Preservation Division, which has until the end of July to review the plan and either accept or reject it.
Burial council members did not object to the plans, but several members of the public opposed the handling of the burials at the construction site across from Baldwin High School along Kaahumanu Avenue.
Grading work for the planned Maui Lani Safeway is visible through a construction dust fence Wednesday morning. Eleven sets of iwi kupuna have been found in the construction of the foundation of the planned Safeway store at the future Maui Lani Center, and a burial plan for them was presented to the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council on Wednesday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The 11 human remains include five burials in a partially intact position and six burials with scattered remains, according to archaeologist Lisa Rotunno-Hazuka. They were found in the "footprint," or under the foundation, of the supermarket under construction.
The burials have been excavated and, due to security issues, are being stored by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, according to Hinano Rodrigues, cultural historian with the State Historic Preservation Division.
Rotunno-Hazuka said the developer, HRT Ltd., a subsidiary of The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Trust, proposes treating the newly found remains similarly to other iwi kupuna found during construction, some of which have been placed in the preserve in the northwest corner of the project site.
That would include placing a rock platform on the burials within the preservation area. The plan also proposes laying the burials in the same spacial relationship to one another as they were discovered, Rotunno-Hazuka said.
Burial Council Member Leiane Paci, a partner with Maui Lani Partners, recommended that the 11 burials instead be re-interned in one location to minimize digging in the preservation area.
A separate plan proposes preserving a 12th burial in place. The remains were found in a trench near an existing drain line. Work has been redesigned to preserve that burial, and the plan proposes laying a rock platform over the area and erecting fencing.
Council Vice Chairman Scott Fisher asked Rotunno-Hazuka about the likelihood of finding more burials.
"It's still a possibility," Rotunno-Hazuka said.
She estimated work on installing the project's larger utilities is about two-thirds complete.
"Water and electrical are next, which are much shallower," she said.
Joyclynn Costa, a member of Hui Pono Ike Kanawai, a Native Hawaiian law research group, questioned whether workers were properly monitoring for burials when removing large amounts of sand from the site.
"I don't call it grading. It's sand mining," Costa said at Wednesday's burial council meeting. "There have been truckloads after truckloads after truckloads. How can you monitor that much tonnage?"
Rotunno-Hazuka responded that there are monitors in place.
"It's true, a lot of truckloads are leaving the area," she said. "Each load has been watched potentially three different times."
She added that the sand is not screened again for remains once it's offloaded, but that it would be screened later.
Costa and other testifiers asked whether the burial council had the power to halt the project.
"Our limited role deals with whether (a burial) be moved to a burial site or left in place," Fisher said.
Hui members held an overnight vigil Sunday evening to Monday morning to honor the kupuna whose remains have been disturbed at the site. The group said that at least 19 burials have been discovered at the site.
Clare Apana, a hui member and Sand Hills resident, pleaded with the burial council to allow her to practice her Native Hawaiian rights on the property.
"I have identified myself as a cultural practitioner, and my kuleana is to assist and protect these iwi kupuna," she said. "The iwi kupuna suffer too. I have heard their concerns."
Apana formally applied at the meeting to be recognized as a cultural descendant to the remains found at the Maui Lani Center site. Her application will be considered at a future meeting.
The State Historic Preservation Division said that it has two other pending applicants who claim to be lineal descendants to the remains.
Apana also has filed a legal challenge against the project, claiming that the developers have not taken adequate steps to protect burials in sand dunes on the property. Specifically, she is challenging a Maui Planning Commission's "finding of no significant (environmental) impact" for the project.
Construction at the site has been ongoing for months. Developer HRT Ltd. announced last year that its anchor tenant would be Safeway, which would be 60,000 square feet. At build-out, the center will include 105,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space and 550 parking stalls.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.