Human remains have been found along the route of Honolulu’s rail transit project in the city’s Kakaako area, the first burials discovered during archaeological surveys of the 20-mile route.
The remains were found in a narrow trench dug near the intersection of Cooke and Halekauwila streets as part of the archaeological survey work for the $5.16 billion project.
HART officials were tight-lipped about the discovery Thursday afternoon and referred questions to the State Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“We are working closely with the State Historic Preservation Division, the Oahu Island Burial Council and other stakeholders to ensure that iwi kupuna are treated respectfully, with great sensitivity and in accordance with state burial laws,” Daniel Grabauskas, HART executive director and CEO, said in a statement. “This is not unexpected. In fact we have a protocol in place that is the result of months of collaboration and consultation with all parties. And we will continue to work together throughout this process.”
SHPD will determine what the remains are, HART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding said.
Officials at SHPD and the Oahu Burial Council could not immediately be reached for comment.
Within hours of the discovery, one attorney in a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the 20-mile project from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center said the discovery could bolster his case.
“This is exactly why you are supposed to do these analysis before you approve the project,” said Matthew Adams, a partner with the San Francisco-base law firm SNR Denton. “I think it provides a concrete example of exactly what we are concerned about.”
Adams represents the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental impact statement. The plaintiffs include mayoral candidate and former Gov. Ben Cayetano, Honolulutraffic.com Chairman Cliff Slater, University of Hawaii Law Professor Randy Roth and others.
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. also has a state case against the project on the grounds that the archaeological survey work for the entire project should have been done before construction started earlier this year. That organization represents Native Hawaiian Paulette Kaleikini, who expressed concerns Kakaako is where remains would likely be found.
The Hawaii Supreme Court has accepted the city’s motion to reconsider its ruling last month, which caused construction to stop, and has given the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Kaleikini until Friday to respond.
Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney David Kimo Frankel told PBN Thursday afternoon that the city had not contacted him about the discovery.
“There are things we can do,” he told PBN. “It’s premature to say what we should or would do,”
But Adams said the discovery of the remains could cause him to file additional motions in his case and the judge has not given either side any deadline to do so. That case was heard Aug. 21 in The U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
“I’m not going to celebrate this because this is a bad thing. These things should not be disturbed,” Adams said.
(Mark Abramson Report Provided by Pacific Business News)