Moving Against the Tide of Artificial Wave Pools

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Community members at odds over the development of another wave pool in ʻEwa

The development of a second artificial wave pool in ʻEwa has sent ripples through the community. The future location of the proposed project is a mere 10-minute drive from Waikai, the location of Oʻahu’s first wave pool.

Citing concerns about the natural environment and the presence of iwi kūpuna, about 100 kiaʻi took part in a peaceful occupation at the site of the proposed Honokea Surf Village wave pool on January 26. – Courtesy Photos

Nā Kiaʻi o Wai Hā, a grassroots organization, has filed a complaint in the First Circuit Environmental Court against the planned “Honokea Surf Village” and held a peaceful occupation at the site on Jan. 26, 2024.

“We want to continue to build support for the coalition against the wave pool, so we are considering planning another occupation event in front of this site just to raise awareness about where it’s going to be. We are also planning more cultural activities with people like Uncle Wally Ito, a protector of the limu in Kalaeloa,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale, a leader of Nā Kiaʻi o Wai Hā.

About 100 people attended the occupation and the group has collected over 500 signatures in opposition of the development.

“There were families that came up to us and said, ‘We’re happy you’re here,’ so our presence at the site, educating [people] was also important for the community because it’s about empowering them to say what they feel and be part of a larger movement,” said Sonoda-Pale.

Nā Kiaʻi o Wai Hā’s court hearing against the development of Honokea West is scheduled for April 11, 2024, and they encourage the public to join them.

“We have a court case coming up. It’s a hearing on our request for summary judgment. The complaint basically says that the environmental assessment just is not enough; that it doesn’t adequately assess and include all of the [potential] adverse impacts this project will and may have,” said Sonoda-Pale.

In a statement released by Brian Keaulana, owner of Honokea and a professional waterman, he said, “As a descendant of generations of Native Hawaiian surfers and watermen, I am disappointed by the misguided accusations being levied against Honokea West. This project is motivated by my ʻohana’s love for the ʻāina, kai and our people. Honokea West will integrate Hawaiian values into every aspect of our guest experience and will share our surfing traditions and values.”

According to Honokea’s website, the project site was chosen based on its proximity to the west side and its ability to provide a recreational and economic boost to the coast. They also claim that no federal or state protected endangered species were found on site and that the project will not impact any significant archaeological sites.

The location of the project at an area known as Oneʻula has been nicknamed “Ka Hale O Limu” (The House of Limu) by many Hawaiian cultural practitioners – like the late Walter Kamana – for its ability to seed limu from Nānākuli to Waikīkī.

“There are five different types of limu manauea alone, let alone all the other types of limu that were there, plus all the kaitens and the shellfish and all the other reef magic that live there,” said Kai Markell, Office of Hawaiian Affairs compliance manager and in-house iwi kūpuna expert.

“We also know that burials are consistently found throughout that area underneath, in the karsts, in sinkholes that are filled in – you don’t even know it’s a sinkhole because it’s been filled in over time.”

One of the community’s main concerns about the development are iwi kūpuna believed to be buried in the area.

“Who knows what is under the surface – and if you’re going to excavate all this and pump water and just ruin the whole [karst] system…that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Markell.

In the early 2000s, iwi kupuna were found at Oneʻula Beach that were later identified as chiefess of Kalanikūpule, Namahanakapukaleimakaliʻi, the half-sister of Queen Kaʻahumanu.

“People don’t believe it [Oneʻula] is anything special. It’s a dry wasteland; nobody wants to live out there – but that is why it was a place for burials of high ranking aliʻi, because nobody was out there, nobody was going to go messing around, so kūpuna were safe,” explained Markell.

“We want people to understand why we’re against it, and we also want people to understand the importance of protecting places that have burials and these very unique sinkholes,” said Sonoda-Pale.

According to Honokea’s website, “In the event that historic or traditional cultural properties are encountered during construction, work in the project area will cease until SHPD (State of Hawaiʻi Historic Preservation Division) is notified and appropriate protocols are carried out.”

While there are Hawaiians on both sides of this conflict, Sonoda-Pale says we shouldn’t buy into the Hawaiian vs. Hawaiian paradigm, and, instead, stay focused on protecting the ʻāina.

“We need to stick to the issue – and the issue is protecting our burials, protecting our freshwater resources, protecting our limu, and protecting these sacred spaces for future generations so that we can continue to live and thrive on this ʻāina,” said Sonoda-Pale.