When the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled last August that Honolulu’s rail project violated state law by performing an archeological inventory survey in phases, it touched off debate on whether any large-scale projects could ever be completed in a timely fashion.
As a result, Gov. Neil Abercrombie asked lawmakers to introduce Senate Bill 1171, which allows developers to perform an archeological inventory survey in phases, as long as they receive prior approval from the State Historic Preservation Division.
“Absent any kind of clarification of the rules and the law, we're going to be in status quo and a lot of projects, both in transportation and otherwise, are just going to be stopped dead in its tracks,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, who chairs a Senate conference committee scheduled to debate the bill later this week.
However, some native Hawaiians and environmental groups are mounting a last-minute campaign against the bill, saying it threatens the protection of native Hawaiian burials, also known as iwi kupuna. Nearly a dozen opponents held a news conference Monday at the state Capitol rotunda.
“It takes away the protections that we as residents and citizens of the state of Hawaii have already agreed to,” said Moses Haia, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.
Haia added that protections under the current law also benefit developers, since they know exactly what’s required of them when embarking on a large-scale project. He said if an AIS is allowed to be done in phases, native Hawaiian burials might not get the respect they deserve.
“You would really end up with only one option, and that would be to relocate the remains,” Haia told KITV4.
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, the chairperson of the Oahu Island Burial Council, maintains that a phased AIS approach would slow the body’s work and complicate the formulation of burial treatment plans.
“All we have to do is do what we teach our children,” said Wong-Kalu, “do your homework first, and then go outside and play.”
Wakai said the Senate conference committee scheduled to hear SB 1171 will meet sometime this week, but as of Monday, a date had not yet been set. Wakai welcomed any and all input from the public.
“I always invite the public to weigh in on any issue, and I have certainly heard concerns both from the native Hawaiians as well as supporters of the measure,” said Wakai. “I didn't take this job to hide, so I'm perfectly happy to listen to all sides of this issue.”
Meanwhile, the group Non-Partisan Hawaii Ohana is circulating a petition to kill SB 1171, as well as two other measures that seek to roll back environmental protections.
“What this is doing is actually piecemealing many parts of the PLDC statute,” said Michelle Matson, a member of Hawaii Ohana. “The people who are promoting these bills through the legislature and voting for them, are actually flying in the face of the public will.”
The petition can be found online at the following address: http://www.change.org/petitions/hawaii-state-senate-and-house-of-representatives-vote-down-bills-that-keep-the-despised-pldc-objectives-alive