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Council moves to acquire, protect Waiale land with Hawaiian burials

Plan would acquire about 545 acres owned by A&B

A council committee recently recommended approval for the acquisition of culturally sensitive Alexander and Baldwin land in Waiale to preserve for open space. The proposal includes acquiring for $10.5 million about 493 acres (in gray) for cultural preservation, along with agreeing to receive a roughly 50-acre donation for cultural preservation (in green). Rendering courtesy Keani Rawlins-Fernandez

Saying that council members have an opportunity to make history, Mayor Michael Victorino on Tuesday encouraged approval of legislation that would acquire and preserve more than 540 acres in Waiale after iwi kupuna, or ancestral remains, were found there.

“The importance of this area is very clear,” he said during the council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. “It’s very sacred, sacred to the lineal descendants and sacred to the people of Hawaii and Maui County.”

Committee members voted unanimously to recommend approval on a legislative package that would acquire 493 acres for cultural preservation for $10.5 million, receive a 50-acre dedication for cultural preservation and receive a donation for affordable housing, both from Alexander & Baldwin.

The proposal now heads to the Maui County Council for first reading.

Owned by A&B, the Central Maui land was slated years ago for the company’s Waiale master-planned community, with hundreds of homes, commercial areas, a middle school, public facility and parks.

However, community members such as Malama Kakanilua nonprofit President Clare Apana pushed back against proposals, pointing to historic Hawaiian burials in the area.

Janet Six, principal archaeologist for Maui County, recommended reconsideration of the plans after confirming the findings of iwi kupuna, according to a county news release in May.

Apana testified Tuesday, saying that her group and others have been fighting for nine years to gain recognition and protection for iwi kupuna.

“Every single department came up against us and said, ‘No, there’s nothing there, there’s nothing important there, the archaeology doesn’t need to be finished,’ “ she said. “This day is really a landmark day for us.”

Malama Kakanilua has been involved in litigation in recent years seeking to stop sand mining and create better protections for Central Maui burials. The group has filed lawsuits advocating for compliance of archaeological monitoring plans, challenging grading permit extensions and alleging that government and developers failed to protect the burials.

Jennifer Noelani Ahia, a nonprofit member and recognized cultural descendant of iwi kupuna at Maui Lani, on Tuesday thanked county officials for affirming what kanaka maoli have known all along.

“You folks have been hearing us testifying for years about the very, very sensitive nature of these historic sand dunes,” she testified. “It truly is a historic opportunity to do something different and set a precedent moving forward about the importance of our historic sites and most importantly the historic nature of our iwi kupuna because they really are our most cherished possession. They are us and we are them.”

Lucienne de Naie testified that Sierra Club Maui strongly supports approval.

“The Waiale land deserves to be a place of peace, it deserves to be a place of healing, it deserves to be a place where iwi kupuna can be resting without the disturbance of another sand mining proposal, another commercial proposal, another residential proposal,” she said. “I have to say I have seen people come to tears with the thought of more development on that particular area of remaining dunes. This is a good first step to that solution.”

Council members ahead of the vote credited many people who have worked over the years to advocate for the county acquiring culturally sensitive lands to preserve for open space and preservation work.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura said it took many people and many years to reach this point in time. She credited then-Council Member Elle Cochran for her efforts.

“We can honor those who worked so hard to make it happen,” Sugimura said. “And a lot of work is to come, a lot of work to make sure this is handled very delicately and with respect.”

Committee Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez thanked the administration for having the “leadership” and “community-mindedness” for starting the journey of healing for the community.

She also thanked the nonprofit and leaders in the community for taking the stand over many years “to be the voice for our iwi kupuna, (for) protecting them and protecting us.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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