County suspends Maui Lani project grading permits

Questions surface over lack of archaeological monitoring plans

Maui County has suspended two grading and grubbing permits for a project in Maui Lani over concerns about archaeological monitoring plans to protect human burials that may be at the site.

The permits are for work at Maui Lani Phase 6, located between the The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course and Maui Lani Parkway in Kahului. The site is adjacent to the Maui Lani Phase 9 development.

Last year, excavation at that project site sparked concern about mining of Central Maui inland sand after a Honolulu TV news report showed a contractor taking sand for shipment to Oahu for construction projects. That work has since stopped.

Community members protested work at the site, alarmed about the potential for disturbing burials in excavated areas. The Phase 9 development has been part of a recent 2nd Circuit Court dispute over the mining of sand, and it was the impetus for a measure passed recently for a six-month sand-mining moratorium. Signed into law Jan. 19, the measure came with exemptions for some landowners and others, including Maui Lani’s Phase 9, because they had current grading and grubbing permits.

On Feb. 2, the county’s Department of Public Works Development Services Administration notified HBT of Maui Lani that grading and grubbing permits for a portion of its Maui Lani Phase 6 project were being suspended.

In an email to the developer, the county reported that it had received notification from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation Division that the project’s archaeological monitoring plans for the site were “non-operational,” and the state agency would need to review and approve a new plan before work could resume.

According to state business records, HBT Maui Lani’s member/manager is Towne Development of Hawaii. HBT develops real estate.

In general, the state requires an archaeological monitoring plan when underground human remains or cultural deposits might be found at a work site.

The county’s email directed HBT to work with the state to address the monitoring concerns. The Historic Preservation Division would recommend when to allow grading and grubbing to continue.

The project developer and an official with DLNR could not be reached immediately for comment Friday.

The Public Works Department said it initially received an email on Jan. 30 from a community member expressing concern about construction on the Phase 6 site. The county then worked with the state historic preservation officials and suspended the permits after getting a written notification from the state.

Malama Kakanilua, a group of lineal and cultural descendants of ancestors buried in the sand dunes and concerned community members, notified the county about problems with archaeological monitoring on the Phase 6 project.

Malama Kakanilua attorney Lance Collins said group members have been asking county and state officials to comply with the burial law and approved archaeological monitoring plans.

After the state Preservation Division reviewed of the matter, it requested the county put Phase 6 permits on hold, he said.

Collins said that the state determined that parts of Phase 6 do not have approved and valid archaeological monitoring plans — an oversight caused by the shifting of tax map key designations.

In another matter, Collins alleged that developers were not following the valid archaeological monitoring plans they do have for the Phase 6 area. He said Malama Kakanilua members have seen work at the site without archaeological monitoring, as required.

The situation has led to protests by Malama Kakanilua members who have held signs near the Phase 6 site, Collins said.

Last year, Malama Kakanilua and two individuals filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court to challenge work at the separate Maui Lani Phase 9 project. In September, a judge ordered earth-moving work to stop unless certain conditions are met. Those include complying with the project’s archaeological monitoring plan and allowing an observer during work at the site.

Maui Lani Partners has pledged to fully comply with the state-approved archaeological monitoring plan, which the court confirmed allows the developer to proceed with work at the property.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at