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VIDEO: Mayor Kirk Caldwell discusses Sherwood Forest project that resumes amid COVID-19 outbreak

                                Mahealani Martin walks past the entrance to Sherwood Forest this morning where a city construction project has restarted.


    Mahealani Martin walks past the entrance to Sherwood Forest this morning where a city construction project has restarted.

                                The construction area this morning at Waimanalo Beach Park.


    The construction area this morning at Waimanalo Beach Park.


UPDATE 7:50 p.m.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell today gave no indications that he plans to stop the Sherwood Forest project as he addressed concerns from the public and elected officials to reconsider construction during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Caldwell held an online press conference around 4 p.m. to address any issues surrounding the project as he fielded questions sent remotely from reporters.

He opened the press conference by saying the project is in a better place because of all the community input he has received.

>> Click here for photos from today’s demonstration

“I think because of the input that we’ve received from everyone, and the things that we learned, that I learned personally — this is a much, much, much better project than when we started,” Caldwell said. “It is about a grassy field where our keiki can come and play. It is a grassy field where you can have makahiki and other types of cultural practices. It’s about a grassy field surrounded by Native Hawaiian trees.”

He said whether sports would be allowed on the field is a decision the community has to make.

When asked about adjusting the timeline of the project because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Caldwell said other construction projects around the island are moving forward as well, adding that the outbreak might be a good time to continue with them.

“We live with the COVID-19 pandemic everyday here at the city and county of Honolulu, and there are other projects we’re going to be proceeding with — construction projects very small and very large,” Caldwell said. “In some ways it’s the proper time to do it. You know, there are people who need money in their pockets. … This is another way to put money in the pockets of our local contractors and employees.”

He also said that as long as people practice social distancing while gathered at the park, they won’t be exposed to a higher risk of COVID-19.

Honolulu City Council Chairman (and area Councilman) Ikaika Anderson, who requested Caldwell to pause construction during the outbreak today, disagreed with that assessment.

“No one’s going to get sick physically if construction stops until the pandemic is over, but I cannot without absolute certainty, absolute certainty, say no one’s going to get sick if we proceed — we don’t know that,” Anderson said. “And I understand we had kupuna out there today. I’m concerned for their safety.”

Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo, of Save our Sherwoods (SOS), agreed that construction should stop while the disease is still spreading.

“That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t put out a kāhea to call the masses to come in and stand in the gaps and express themselves,” he said.

Attorney Tim Vandeveer, who represents SOS and other plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the city and the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the project, said in statement Sunday that “it is not fair or proper for the City to proceed before the Court has had an opportunity to rule on their actions.”

Caldwell responded, “The city gets sued all the time. If every time we got a lawsuit filed and we stopped a project, nothing would go forward.”

4 p.m.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is holding a 4 p.m. press conference today to discuss the situation at Sherwood Forest.

Click here to watch the video.

2:30 p.m.

The construction of and opposition to the project at Sherwood Forest, or Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, continued today even while the state is in the midst of a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

A construction crew and an excavator at the park this morning resumed work on Phase I of the controversial Waimanalo Bay Beach Park master plan that had been put on hold since October. Honolulu police were also present.

About two dozen opponents of the project were also at the park’s front gate this morning to protest the construction of a field and an 11-stall parking lot on a 4-acre plot.

The demonstration along Kalanianaole Highway — opponents waving signs and flags as vehicles passed by and honked to show support — was reminiscent of those that took place in September of last year. Those demonstrations led to the arrests of 28 protesters who on Sept. 26 blocked Honolulu police and construction equipment from entering the park.

But today nearly everyone was wearing protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus that has infected nearly 300 people on Oahu.

The city’s decision to continue with the project, which has been shelved since October of last year, during a health crisis has been met with criticism by opponents and calls by elected officials to put it back on hold.

“It was very shocking to see (Mayor Kirk Caldwell) announce that he was actually going to start construction up again here at Hunananiho (Sherwood Forest) in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale, who was at Sherwood Forest today. “It not just puts the workers at risk, but it puts us at risk as well.”

Sonoda-Pale, a Kuliouou resident, said it was necessary to go to the park today to take a stand against the $1.43 million project, even if it put her at risk of the disease. She said opponents of the project were receiving mixed instructions about showing up today, but for her there was no question.

“Despite the fact that we all were told to stay home … as a kanaka maoli, how are we going to stay home when they’re digging our kupuna up and desecrating our sacred sites?” she said.

The state has been under orders to stay at home for non-essential business for nearly two weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Groups like Save Our Sherwoods (SOS) that have been challenging the project since last year want construction to stop because it could disrupt what is a culturally significant area to Native Hawaiians.

Over 90 ancestral bones have been found at Sherwood Forest, which could be one of the first locations Hawaiians settled in after reaching the archipelago. The construction site could also be on land listed as a funerary in the National Register of Historic Places.

Honolulu City Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson this morning asked Caldwell to stop the project and opponents not to gather in large groups during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“My concern is, and the main priority of government should be, the health, safety and well-being of all during this pandemic,” he wrote in a Facebook post this morning.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who has helped lead the state in fighting the disease, said moving forward with construction right now is dangerous.

“Mayor Caldwell’s decision to resume construction at Sherwood Forest is dangerous and should be reconsidered immediately,” Green wrote in an Instagram post this afternoon. “Now is not the time to unnecessarily expose community members who protest this project, police and construction workers to COVID-19.”

“Today, I am at a loss for words as to why the city would proceed with the long-standing controversial project at Sherwood Forest,” Honolulu City Councilwoman Kym Pine said in a statement. “While so many are already suffering, afraid and confused, we more than ever need leadership that unites us, gives us hope and keeps us safe.”

SOS is among other plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the city that alleges several issues with the project, including its failure to recognize Sherwood Forest’s cultural significance and use of a flawed permit approval process.

Previous coverage

Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Sunday via social media that construction of a controversial city park project in Waimanalo will resume construction today.

The city originally said in January that it would continue with the first phase of the project to develop a section of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, also known as Sherwood Forest.

The city’s move is a loss for community members who have opposed the project since last year.

“While there’s been a lot of emotion around the project, I think it’s everyone’s hope at the end of the day when this field is completed … people can gather here,” Caldwell said in a video statement posted online.

Opponents of the project are back at the entrance to the park this morning, despite an email from the group Save Our Sherwoods asking residents to observe stay-at-home restrictions currently in place.

“The mayor’s reckless, underhanded behavior is unethical and he is seeking to subvert our democracy during a health crisis,” SOS said in the email. “We know many of you have said you will stand in protest. However, to be clear, no one should violate the stay-at-home order or risk exposure to the coronavirus to protest these actions.”

Honolulu City Council Chairman (and area Councilman) Ikaika Anderson posted the following on Facebook this morning:

“I sent a direct request to Mayor Caldwell to not go forward with construction at Sherwoods at this time as our entire community is in the midst of a pandemic. Most government offices are closed, only essential businesses are allowed to open for business, and there is evidence of COVID-19 community spread. My concern is, and the main priority of government should be, the health, safety and wellbeing of all during this pandemic. I urge community members not to gather en masse at Sherwoods or elsewhere during this pandemic. Communicate your mana’o through various available electronic means or by phone.”

The $1.43 million project is part of a 2012 Waimanalo Bay Beach Park master plan to develop the 74-acre Sherwood Forest, including the creation of hiking trails, a parking lot and a multipurpose field.

Opposition grew early in 2019, and the city later decided it would only continue with phase one of the project, which it said would cover around four acres and include an 11-stall parking lot and the multipurpose field. The original plan included the construction of a $32 million sports complex and a 470-stall parking lot.

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