REBURIAL OR REDESIGN?
The Ward Village Shops area, above, is only one of a growing number of redevelopment sites where the discovery of native Hawaiian remains has given developers pause. Companies, with millions of dollars on the line, say they are trying to be culturally sensitive as they work. Descendants of the deceased say they just want their ancestors to rest in peace. CLICK FOR LARGE
As isle development grows, old graves become obstacles
Construction projects are running into costly delays as more burial sites are uncovered
More and more companies seeking to develop or redevelop in Hawaii are running into an obstacle almost as formidable as the environmentalists and the protectors of the islands' laid-back charm: the dead.
Construction projects keep unearthing graves 100 years old or more, leading to legal battles, costly delays and redesigns, reburials, and hurt feelings among some Native Hawaiians. They say the dead should be allowed to rest in peace.
"What if they built a Wal-Mart at Arlington? How would people feel?" Native Hawaiian activist William Aila asked.
Aila is a member of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, or "Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawaii." The group was founded in 1988 after roughly 1,000 sets of remains or "iwi," were found during construction of the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Maui.
From remote sand dunes on Maui to bustling Waikiki, hundreds of sets of Hawaiian remains, or "iwi," are discovered every year. The graves -- unmarked and undocumented -- are considered sacred to native Hawaiians.
Companies say they are being culturally sensitive and abiding by state law while exercising their right to build on land they own.
Hawaii has a stringent state law protecting graves. The 1990 law prohibits removing, destroying or altering any burial sites except as permitted by the state and local burial councils. If a construction project encounters bones, the work must stop in the immediate area and authorities must be notified.
Some developers have redesigned their projects to preserve native graves.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Maui, where 1,000 graves dating to the year 850 were unearthed during excavation in the late 1980s, was completely redesigned at a cost of millions and moved inland. The remains were preserved in a spot now registered as a state historic place, with signs informing visitors about its cultural significance.
More recently Fifield Cos. agreed to relocate the parking garage and make other changes in a $300 million Allure Waikiki condo project now under construction on the site of the former Wave Waikiki nightclub.
Still ongoing is the dispute over the site of the first Hawaii store planned by Whole Foods Market Inc., the nation's largest natural-foods grocer. At least 50 sets of bones have been unearthed in at the Ward Village Shops site where the store is being built as part of a mixed-use redevelopment project.
Construction on a small section of the Whole Foods site has been prohibited since last summer. Mall developer General Growth Properties Inc., which said many of the remains were discovered during an archaeological survey that it voluntarily commissioned, faces additional costs because of lawsuits and could be forced to redesign the $150 million project.
The Oahu Island Burial Council decided last year that the first 11 sets of remains should be reburied elsewhere on the property. The fate of the 40 or so other sets of bones, discovered separately in recent months, will be determined by the state Historical Preservation Division. The division has been involved in the reburial of about 3,000 sets of remains since 1991.
Work proceeded near a burial site this month at the planned home of Hawaii's first Whole Foods Market. Construction on a section of the site has been halted due to the discovery of about 50 native Hawaiian remains. CLICK FOR LARGE
The dispute follows an emotional confrontation on Wal-Mart's 10-acre property less than a half-mile away, where 64 sets of remains were found. After three years, they sit locked up in a trailer under a parking ramp, awaiting reburial.
The remains were unearthed during construction of a Sam's Club and Wal-Mart store that opened in 2004 amid protests.
Paulette Kaleikini, a descendant of the deceased at both the Wal-Mart and Whole Foods sites, said: "Why should they be removed to accommodate development? They were there first. If these burials were of Western people, would they move them?"
Aila said Wal-Mart could have redesigned the store and chose not to, which was a "demonstration of disrespect."
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Tiffany Moffatt said the company "took the necessary steps and incurred the necessary costs" to "ensure the remains were treated in accordance with state law in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner."
Among other things, construction was suspended briefly in some spots, and Wal-Mart hired a consultant to work with the descendants.
After the bones were discovered during construction, Wal-Mart stopped work and brought in archaeologists, as required under law. The remains are in storage because they are evidence in the state's case against the archaeologists, who are challenging a $210,000 fine over allegations of desecration and failure to immediately notify authorities.
A hearing in the case against the archaeologists is set for next month. Wal-Mart said it is not involved in the case and is awaiting state approval to rebury the remains.