Historic preservation supporters, archaeologists and Native Hawaiian groups celebrated Earth Day on Monday by rallying at the state Capitol to demand that legislators shelve a bill that would allow for archaeological inventory surveys to be done in phases while construction work is ongoing.
The bill is in response to the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision that archaeological review of Oahu’s 20-mile rail project should have been completed before construction began.
Opponents of Senate Bill 1171 said they fear that permitting phased review would make it more difficult for projects to be rerouted or changed once construction begins, which would jeopardize the preservation of iwi kupuna, or ancestral remains.
"If this bill becomes law, large-scale developments could begin without first identifying all of the burial sites and historic properties that might lay in the path of the bulldozer," Ty Kawika Tengan, an ethnic studies and anthropology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told the crowd. "This law would thereby phase out the legal obligation and moral responsibilities of the state to protect the integrity of the islands’ historic and cultural heritage."
David Kimo Frankel, a staff attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said the supporters of the bill are "trying to overturn the Supreme Court decision."
If the bill becomes law, it would affect future projects.
Lawmakers say they want to clarify the current law. "I think we need to come to a reasonable compromise because the Supreme Court justices in their decision told us that their decision was based on a lack of clarity in the law, so what we’re trying to do here is provide clarity in that law," said Sen. Glenn Wakai (D, Kalihi-Salt Lake-Aliamanu), chairman of the Senate conference committee on the bill.
House and Senate conferees have scheduled a conference committee meeting for 9:30 a.m. today in Conference Room 423 at the Capitol.