State urges Ward adjustments to protect Hawaiian remains
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The state is recommending that the developer of a Kakaako retail and housing complex redesign the project to keep 30 sets of native Hawaiian remains, or iwi, in place.
In a letter to developer General Growth Properties this week, the State Historic Preservation Division said it reached its conclusion after assessing the concentration of remains at the Ward site and consulting with cultural descendants.
The agency also recommends that other iwi already disinterred be put back near where they were discovered.
A spokesman for General Growth was not available for comment, but the company had previously told the agency that redesign options it had considered weren't viable.
It has already begun construction of the project, which is to be anchored by Whole Foods Market, with a 17-story apartment tower and parking garage.
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The state has sent a letter to General Growth Properties recommending that it leave in place the majority of native Hawaiian remains that have been found at its Ward construction site.
In addition, the State Historic Preservation Division is asking the developer to consider a redesign of the project, originally planned as a mixed-use retail center anchored by a Whole Foods Market with a 17-story apartment tower on the 6-acre site bound by Auahi, Kamakee and Queen streets.
In a letter dated June 25, division administrator Melanie Chinen recommended that 30 sets of the remains, or iwi, be preserved in place. The site originally was known to contain 11 iwi, but that number has since grown to at least 47.
She also recommended that iwi that already have been disinterred be reburied close to where they were originally found.
Among some of the reasons cited:
» Areas with a concentration of remains require greater consideration.
» The burials were located within a native Hawaiian burial ground.
» The majority of cultural descendants contacted preferred that the iwi remain in place.
» These specific 30 burials are under the footprint of the proposed apartment tower.
The division also requested that additional remains found at neighboring Kakaako sites -- including the Koolani condominium and Queen Street extension -- be interred with the 30 remains.
Although General Growth has asked the division to consider the economic impact of a redesign, Chinen wrote that the state concluded "the facts which require greater consideration for preservation in place far outweigh the reasons presented by the applicant to relocate."
If the structure proposed for the burial ground is relocated or redesigned, Chinen said, the burials could be left in place without exposing them to harm.
"We believe this action would bring a culturally appropriate closure to this issue and provides General Growth Properties the opportunity to publicly demonstrate its good will towards native Hawaiian cultural values," said the letter. "Furthermore, it would relieve General Growth of the need to construct a separate burial preserve for these remains."
The letter indicated that General Growth had considered four additional design options for the project but found none of them viable.
A spokesman for General Growth could not be reached for comment by press time yesterday.
In late 2004, the Hawaii Community Development Authority granted General Growth a development permit for the project, consisting of a 17-story rental apartment along with more than 220,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage.
Whole Foods Market is still expected to anchor the center, although it now plans to open a smaller store at Kahala Mall first.
Paulette Ka'anohi Kaleikini, one of the cultural descendants and plaintiff in a suit against General Growth filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said yesterday she was happy with the division's recommendation.
"All these rules were put in place so that these kupuna could be protected," said Kaleikini, "and by following all the laws to protect and preserve the kupuna, I think she (Chinen) followed what was already in place. By preserving it in place, it protects the integrity of my ohana."
Alan Murakami, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said the division made the right call, but hopes it would also protect the additional burials at the site.
"Perhaps this highlights the degree of care with which archaeologists should test for burials at an early stage of the planning and design of such projects," said Murakami. "It is always better to do the right advance archaeological work first before committing to construction which must be stopped to protect those cultural resources which could have been identified earlier."
The Oahu Island Burial Council, after all, was presented with information on only 11 burials before making its vote to relocate them last fall, he said, and might have voted differently.
"It goes to show that cultural sites such as these cannot be viewed in isolation," he said.