More than two dozen protesters blocking police and construction equipment for a contentious renovation project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park were arrested Thursday morning after a two-hour peaceful standoff on the access road to the park.
The Honolulu Police Department confirmed that 28 protesters who sat in the middle of the road were arrested as at least 60 HPD personnel shut down a section of Kalanianaole Highway and surrounded and arrested protesters.
Construction resumed as soon as the last protester was carried off the road.
The day featured reactions to the confrontation as well as the intention to continue fighting the project from opponents, who filed a lawsuit against the city and federal government Thursday for improper use of the land.
The $1.43 million city project will clear a part of the park’s forest, known as Sherwood Forest, to make room for a multipurpose field and a parking lot.
>> Photo Gallery: Protesters arrested at Waimanalo Beach Park
At around 8 a.m. there were about 60 or so protesters lining Kalanianaole Highway. At around 8:30 a.m. a caravan of about 10 HPD vehicles entered the park as protesters were discussing how to conduct themselves in protest, including instructions for those who had planned to be arrested. About a half-dozen officers and a few vehicles were already at the park before 8:30 a.m.
A few minutes later about 40 police officers on bicycles tried to get into the park. After a moment’s hesitation from some of the protesters, they allowed the officers to go through.
Once in the park, the officers lined up their bicycles on either side of the access road to block it from protesters and make way for police vehicles and a truck carrying a small excavator.
Protesters quickly lined up on the road to prevent them from coming any farther. Over two dozen protesters eventually joined in, and they all sat down. The bicycle blockade then moved to surround the group of protesters and separate them from those who opted to not get arrested.
By 9 a.m. the highway was closed, and the first protester was being carried into a transport vehicle.
One by one, protesters had their hands zip-tied together and were escorted to transport vehicles. Many opted to have officers carry them away, some continuing to sing and chant as they were being arrested.
Thursday’s confrontation was the culmination of months of opposition from the community, many of whom have been trying to stop the renovation project at the park’s 75-acre forest.
Opponents are worried it will lead to more development in the Waimanalo area and will disturb what is a culturally significant area, which they say is home to at least 90 sets of buried human remains that are estimated to be up to 1,500 years old.
After a Sept. 18 stakeholders meeting hosted by the mayor, during which contractors were given orders to resume construction, protest efforts increased.
Protesters said that there had been at least one person at the entrance of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park at all times since Monday. Some camped out at the park entrance Wednesday night after learning from HPD that construction crews were scheduled to come Thursday morning.
Kukana Kama-Toth, who has lived in Waimanalo for 40 years, was upset in part with the way money is not being used for community interests.
“To see all these resources being poured into a project like this that’s supposed to be for our community, I don’t think that’s pono,” she said.
Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo, president of Save Our Sherwoods, which is leading the effort to halt the project, said all the protesting led to Thursday’s events and that it allowed their message to spread.
“Our goal today and yesterday and today and the day before was just to get our voices heard, and I believe we’ve achieved that today,” he said.
He did not elaborate on what the group plans to do going forward, although he said the group expects to continue its fight.
“I believe once (people) see all of this, it’s going to be Oahu’s Mauna Kea,” said Mialisa Otis, a Waimanalo resident and one of the earliest opponents of the project. “We’re not going anywhere. It’s not done until we know it’s squashed.”
One of those efforts has come in the form of a lawsuit filed Thursday by SOS and others.
“A lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court asking the court to stop construction of a massive ‘sports complex’ at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park,” a news release from SOS said. “The lawsuit cites the City and County of Honolulu’s failure to adhere to federal land use controls, the City’s violation of federal and state historic preservation law, the City’s inadequate Environmental Assessment, and flawed permit approvals that distort the primary and special purposes of the beach park.”
Opponents and supporters of the project have argued over the site’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places, which requires more considerations if construction is to be conducted on it, the adequacy of environmental assessments done on the site and accuracy of the city’s application to do construction on it.
City officials were quick to issue statements or schedule press conferences after the arrests were made.
During his news conference Mayor Kirk Caldwell applauded the conduct of the police. He did so for the protesters as well but said protesters didn’t have the right “to disrupt the community’s daily flow.”
“For a while the entrance to the beach park was blocked, and nobody could come in or out,” he said. “Those who wanted to enjoy the day at the beach couldn’t come in.”
He reiterated that construction would not disrupt any ancestral bones and said that the decision to stop the renovation plan after the first phase of the city’s 2012 master plan was a “huge compromise.”
Caldwell said many people want the project to be completed, although he wouldn’t say whether he thinks a majority of the community wants the project to be finished.
Regarding the forest being part of the national register, a letter to stakeholders said the forest’s designation “doesn’t mean that no work can be done there. It means care needs to be taken with respect to the historic items.”
Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi, chairwoman of the Committee of Parks, Community Services and Intergovernmental Affairs, said there could have been better ways to handle the protest and urged the city to consider stopping the project for now.
“In the short time I have been in office I have seen so many instances where government fails to abide by the rules we so strongly impose on the people,” she said in a written statement. “It is time for government to lead by example.”
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine has called to halt construction at Sherwood Forest.
“It’s not worth it to tear apart a community to build a park,” Pine said in a written statement. “Additionally, there are hundreds of ‘iwi kupuna at the site and there is nothing more sacred. Protecting Native Hawaiian burial sites is mandated by the state Constitution.”
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who has helped move the project along, in a statement said, “I am saddened that kia‘i were arrested this morning at Sherwood Forest. But we all live in a society governed by laws, and it’s illegal to block public access to a public park.”
An HPD spokeswoman said the 28 arrested protesters’ court hearing has been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 24 at Kaneohe District Court.