Saturday, March 23, 2024













SF Gate - March 7, 2024

On the south shore of Kauai, there’s an ancient Hawaiian cultural site unlike any other in Hawaii.

Dating back to the 15th century, Kaneiolouma contains remnants of house sites, taro patches, fishponds, heiau (places of worship) and shrines — and right in the middle of it all is the only remaining ancient makahiki sporting arena in the Islands.

Oval shaped and surrounded by rock walls, the arena is a natural amphitheater where Hawaiians once held boxing, wrestling and spear throwing matches, among other games, during Makahiki, an ancient festival that lasts from October to February. 

But Kaneiolouma’s future hangs in the balance as flooding, exacerbated by overdevelopment, and disinterest from county officials have stunted Native Hawaiians’ efforts to have it fully restored.

“This ancient Hawaiian village that was fully intact will disappear forever,” Rupert Rowe, executive director of the nonprofit organization Hui Malama o Kaneiolouma, told SFGATE. “The government does not really represent or protect the culture’s interests in Hawaii, whether it’s federal, the state or the county.”

Rowe, along with Billy Kaohelaulii, was the first to uncover the fully overgrown and forgotten village back in 1998. They created Hui Malama o Kaneiolouma in 2003 and spent years clearing the land. Then, in 2010, Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho signed an agreement that transferred the stewardship of the land over to Hui Malama o Kaneiolouma, which wants to turn it into a living Hawaiian village.

But a new mayor, Derek Kawakami, was elected in November 2018, and the county stopped offering assistance, said Rowe. Now, vegetation has once more overtaken the site, and flooding of the complex persists.

“In 2019, with the mayor, that’s when the problems started,” Rowe said. “From that day to now, the mayor has refused to do anything in support of the project.”

“Our agreement with them was I clean the rubbish inside there and our county would haul it away,” he continued. But, according to Rowe, different county departments refused ownership of the job. Then things turned ugly.

“They said they can dissolve the stewardship agreement, which I thought was an impossible thing,” he said. “Then they would pump water from the parking lot on top of burials.”

However, the County of Kauai told SFGATE that it continues to assist volunteers and provides bins and equipment as necessary. “In addition, the County also supplies herbicide to the volunteers upon request. The County has no intention of dissolving the stewardship agreement. In fact, the stewardship was recently expanded to include additional acres,” Parks and Recreation deputy director Wallace Rezentes Jr. told SFGATE in an email.

“A few years ago, due to flooding in the Poipu Beach Parking lot, County officials pumped water from the parking lot to the rock area closest to the parking lot,” Rezentes Jr. continued. “Kaneiolouma officials reported this to Department of Health officials. Department of Health officials did not require the County to cease pumping; however the County decided to no longer pump water into the area. The County believes that water was not pumped onto burial sites. However, an Archaeological Inventory Survey is ongoing per the request for the Historic Preservation Division DLNR to map all the historic properties, including burial sites.”

The Kaneiolouma complex sits below sea level, so water running off from the uplands is ending up here, flooding the grounds.

It wasn’t always this way. Hawaiians were experts at controlling the flow of water, especially on the south shore of Kauai. They created a sophisticated irrigation system known as the Koloa Field System, which at one time had a network of ditches, terraces and an aqueduct.

Decades of development to the south side of Kauai has taken away natural drainage. Fishponds were filled in. Underground caves are being destroyed to build development projects. More roads, paved land and development projects increased runoff.

“This whole thing right here is to catch all the water on that side of the bypass road and all of the development, so now you will never be able to use the culture site of Kaneiolouma,” Rowe said.

On the south shore, the latest development is Kauanoe O Koloa. The Bay Area- and Hawaii-based developer Meridian Pacific, which has multiple projects on the island, is permitted to build a $200 million luxury condo with 279 fee-simple condominium homes on 25 acres near Poipu.

The developer was required to present a master drainage plan that took into consideration other developments around it, and the impact it would have to Kaneiolouma. These drainage studies are conducted to determine how much runoff from concrete driveways, concrete parking lots and structures will increase after the development is complete.

“Whatever water is getting to Kaneiolouma now, when it rains, when it does get water, that’s going to be magnified,” Bridget Hammerquist, a former attorney and president of Friends of Mahaulepu, told SFGATE.

At a Kauai County Planning Commission meeting held in December, Wayne Wada, the author of Meridian Pacific’s master drainage report, said that the development will be utilizing drainage detention basins on its property to hold any increase in water and let it out slowly. This is to meet county standards, which require the flow rate to be equal to or less than the pre-development rate.

But it also means that Kaneiolouma will be experiencing water for longer periods of time, said Wada, and the plan did not look into how or if the water could be diverted from Kaneiolouma.

The Kauai County chief engineer, Michael Moule, said Kauanoe o Koloa doesn’t drain to Kaneiolouma, and that it’s coming from another area. (SFGATE reached out to Michael Moule and Meridian Pacific and did not receive a response.)

“That’s a joke,” Hammerquist said. “They don’t have a clue as to what’s going to happen.” She and Rowe believe Meridian Pacific’s master drainage plan doesn’t do enough to evaluate the surrounding developments and consider cumulative impacts of the water, especially as it pertains to Kaneiolouma.

“When one inch falls on 28 acres, it makes 760,000 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water,” Hammerquist said in her December testimony, describing the amount of water possible from Kauanoe o Koloa.

The planning commission ultimately approved the master drainage plan, and both Hammerquist and Rowe vow to fight on.

“But meanwhile,” said Hammerquist, “the developer pushes ahead and as far as he’s concerned, if he can get his concrete poured and his structures up, he doesn’t give a crap what the court decides down the road.”