OHA opposes bike path on Wailua Beach

News Report
Joan Conrow
OHA has opposed plans to build a bike path, which would cover about half of the vegetated area shown here, along Wailua Beach.    Photo by Carl Berg

KAUAI—The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has come out in opposition to a plan to build a bike path on Kauai?s landmark Wailua Beach, saying its ?sacred sands? should be preserved.

“[T]he coastal area is truly a living phenomenon and the accretion, shifting and erosion of the beach at Wailua, along with its sacred designation, truly warrants the preservation of the open space there now unencumbered by man made structures, no matter how seemingly ephemeral,” OHA administrator Clyde Namuo wrote in a September 8 letter to the Federal Highway Administration, which is funding the project.

With OHA’s stance clear, attention is now turning to Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who reportedly said he would move the path if OHA recommended it. Caren Diamond, a member of the Kauai chapter of the Sierra Club, said she attended two recent meetings, one with Native Hawaiians and another with Sierra Club members, where Carvalho promised to relocate the path if OHA felt it should not be on the beach. 

The County of Kauai is currently planning to install a 14-foot-wide wooden boardwalk on the beach as part of its 16-mile Ke Ala Hele Makalae multi-use path project. Sections of the path, which is proposed to run from Ahukini to Anahola, have already been completed. The segment along Wailua Beach would be placed four feet from an existing rock wall, and elevated about a foot above the sand.

OHA has joined opponents to the Wailua Beach route in recommending the path be moved mauka, either in front of or behind Coco Palms Resort, which has not been rebuilt since Hurricane Iniki destroyed it.

“The shoreline, and the sacred sands of ‘Alio where the first male, Kumuhonua and first female, Lalohonua, in the Kauai royal genealogies were created, to the sands of Mahunaone, where the beloved iwi of our beloved alii were carefully, ceremoniously, and mournfully wrapped in the finely scented kapa reserved only for them, to the highest reaches of the wao akua, where Mauna Kapu rises as a kiai for preserving all things Hawaiian, the importance of the Wailua area can not be emphasized enough,” Namuo wrote.

“It’s the most sacred area on Kauai,” said Jim Alalem, a cultural caretaker of the Wailua area, which has seven known heiau and other sacred sites. “No place else on Kauai but there were kings born. That?s where the first drums came up from Tahiti. Most of the history and legends came out of that area. They should leave it alone, and leave in intact.”

Doug Haigh, building division chief for the county’s Department of Public Works, previously said he initially wanted the path to run behind Coco Palms. “We had overwhelming response that people wanted it on the beach, so that?s what pushed us over there,” he said. “With this project, we’ve had a lot of public meetings. We went beyond the legal requirements because we acknowledge the coastal environment is a sensitive environment and this is a public project for the benefit of the community. It’s been public-driven. We’ll never have something everybody can agree on.”

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the path will double as the ADA—Americans With Disabilities Act—pedestrian access in a project now under way to widen Wailua Bridge to four lanes. That project is providing funding to construct the boardwalk and other work related to that segment of the path.

Haigh said the path project “piggybacked” on an a cultural assessment that was done for Kapaa traffic relief measures, and neither it nor the Environmental Assessment raised any issues about Wailua Beach “being particularly sensitive.”

But Waldeen Palmeria, Alalem, and other Native Hawaiians have expressed concern about encountering burials in the sand. They’re also worried that buried iwi might be damaged by a two-foot-diameter screw auger, which will be drilled into the sand to make concrete pilings to secure the wooden boardwalk. Others have linked the issue to the controversy at Naue, on Kauai’s North Shore, where archaeologists capped burials in concrete so Joseph Brescia could build a house above them.

In his letter, Namuo acknowledged that OHA staff had, in 2004, participated in “a walkthrough with regards to a less destructive placement of the proposed pedestrian and bicycle path which was envisioned to be placed in the area with several alternate routes available.”

“At the time of the consultation with OHA,” he wrote, “the issue of the numerous unmarked burial sites discovered at the Coco Palms Resort and the high sensitivity of the area, in relation to other adjacent sacred sites, led to a preference at the time for a makai alignment. This was based upon limited information available at the time and a good faith effort to provide solutions which were seen as the lesser of two choices of potential harm.”

However, in the five years since, Namuo explained: “Much has occurred in the Native Hawaiian community with regards to the understanding of the significant relationship of the various components of the traditional cultural landscape of the ancestors. ...

“The connections to the past, and thus the direction for the future, are being made everyday as the pieces of the past are lovingly, gingerly, and humbly put back together in a race against time and irreparable loss from destruction and alteration.”