Grading of Maui hill angers Hawaiians

Honolulu Advertiser
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Poli'ala map WAIEHU, Maui -- A small hill immortalized in song has been cut down in size by a developer's bulldozer, and some Native Hawaiians are expressing outrage.

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. and a handful of other Hawaiians met with area residents near the base of Poli'ala hill yesterday, demanding an explanation and vowing to stop the grading of the Malaihi Agricultural Subdivision.

"It should have never been touched," Maxwell said.

Gary Zakian, attorney for the landowner, Ko'olau Cattle Co., said the developer had proper permits for the work and was following government requirements for the grading.

Maxwell said Poli'ala was revered for hundreds of years in the Waiehu area of Wailuku, once home to a thriving Hawaiian settlement, as a place of spiritual essence. It is mentioned in the song "Wailele Waiehu," performed by the Waiehu Sons and sung by lifelong resident Harry Brown.

Brown said that he was angry that no one checked with area residents before plowing up the area.

"What's happening around our communities is not right," added Oliver Dukelow of Kahakuloa, who said other areas important to Native Hawaiians are being sacrificed to development protected by "western laws."

The 10-lot Malaihi subdivision was first proposed at least five years ago by Wailuku Agribusiness on a 70-acre property off Kahekili Highway at Malaihi Road. At the time, the state Historic Preservation Division told the company the project would have no impact on historical sites because it already had endured considerable alteration from modern agriculture.

After the project was sold to the Ko'olau Cattle Co. - a subsidiary of Maui developer Betsill Brothers Construction Inc. - and grading had begun, the state agency revised its comments, saying archaeological monitoring and survey work would be necessary.

According to a letter from the division to the county, the revisions were made because, among other things, precontact historic properties had been identified nearby, burials were found in a roadway corridor, and there was evidence a railroad had run nearby along Kahekili Highway, as evidenced by massive stone work and earthen banks along the road.

Ko'olau agreed to have an archaeological monitor present during trenching for water lines, and to complete an archaeological survey of the subdivision.

But the division never mentioned preserving the hill, and the state Department of Transportation, in fact, requested that it be graded to allow greater sight distance for Malaihi Road motorists turning onto the highway. The county approved the requirement for the grading permit.

Attorney Zakian said that in grading the hill, the company was merely doing what it was told.

Officials with the state Historic Preservation Division on Maui and O'ahu could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Maxwell and others said they were outraged the hill was "cut in half. ... Again, the State Historic Preservation has failed to protect the importance of the land," he said.

Reach Timothy Hurley at or (808) 244-4880.

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