By NANCY COOK LAUER
Hawaii County is about to embark on an archaeological survey of a 784-acre Kawa Bay property, a process likely to add months to plans for an oceanfront park there and push any eviction of several Native Hawaiians laying claim to the property into the new year.
The survey is coming as members of other Native Hawaiian families met Thursday with the state Historic Preservation Division, alerting the agency to the possible location of graves and heiau there, said county Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau. He said archaeological and cultural surveys are part of a management and stewardship plan.
“They’ve been going down with SHPD on foot not only to identify burial sites but also to register them,” Lau said, adding he doesn’t think any iwi kupuna, ancestral bones, have so far been located. SHPD officials couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
The land, running between mile markers 57 and 58 off Highway 11 in Ka‘u, and valued at about $6 million, has been the subject of controversy for years. Using money from the county open-space fund backed by property taxes and supplemented with state and federal grants, the county was able to finalize the purchase of the final parcel in November.
The long-anticipated county park at one of the best surfing spots on the island has yet to be realized, however.
Abel Simeona Lui and a group living with him in tents and wooden structures on the property say they have a right as Native Hawaiians and descendants of the original inhabitants to stay there. Lui, 70, says he’s lived on the property for 20 years. He claims he’s the steward of the land, and he’s planted gardens, held surfing contests and cared for injured wildlife there.
It’s been almost a year since a judge granted the county an eviction order, but county administrators have yet to see it through. Lui’s attempts to fight the county purchase in state and federal courts have been rejected, and Lui himself was ejected from a Kona courtroom in November.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said Thursday the county, members of the Apiki family and SHPD archaeologists and cultural specialists were surveying the property as the next step in the process.
“We’re going to take care of Kawa Bay by working with the families, protecting the cultural and archaeological sites,” Kenoi said. “We want to put our management plan in place and then execute a transition. It’s all about doing it right.”
Lau said Lui hasn’t interfered with the process. Some members of the Apiki family have in the past said Lui or someone from his group was knocking down their attempts to rebuild an old stone hale there and destroying other artifacts, such as a rock carved into a playing area for the historic game of konane, which is played much like checkers using black and white stones.
Asked what he meant by a transition, Kenoi said, “a transition to a Kawa Bay management plan.”
County Property Manager Ken Van Bergen said he’s currently putting together a scope of work and plans to contract for an archaeological study within the next several weeks.
Kenoi visited Lui for the first time in April, walking the land and holding a discussion out of range of media cameras and microphones. But comments afterward indicate the mayor gave Lui a reason to be optimistic about his future there. In fact, Lau told Stephens Media earlier this year that Lui could be allowed to be part of the community stewardship program.
Not everyone in Ka‘u is happy with that possible outcome.
Some neighbors claim Lui and his supporters have harassed them for trying to tap into public wells on the Kawa Bay property, or for taking children to the shoreline there. People have written letters to the editor of the newspaper saying Lui has blocked them when they were hiking the trails on the makai side of the property. A meeting in Naalehu in March drew almost 100 residents expressing their opposition to Lui’s continued presence on the property.
Lui claims his great-great-grandfather, Timoteo Keawe, received the land in a royal grant and that under kingdom law, it could be leased but never sold. But the state Supreme Court in 2007, in an 83-page opinion, ruled the Apikis — a Native Hawaiian family that traces its roots six generations to a Kawa Bay fishing village — and other families had no ownership interest in the land.
Neither Lui nor a representative of the Apiki family returned telephone messages Thursday.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at email@example.com.