Iwi discovered in lava tube at Lono Kona project

  • Work continues on the Lono Kona sewer project after iwi kupuna were found in a lava tube during excavation. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Work continues on the Lono Kona sewer project after iwi kupuna were found in a lava tube during excavation. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The $11 million Lono Kona sewer project is being built mauka of Kuakini Highway in an area residents have dubbed “Hamburger Hill.”

HILO — Iwi kupuna, or human remains, were discovered in a lava tube broken into by contractors digging sewer lines for the Lono Kona project in a neighborhood residents call “Hamburger Hill.”

Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said the remains have been removed by archaeologists and relocated. Cesspool waste was also found in that lava tube as well as another one nearby, he said.

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“There were some remains and the burial council has come in and dealt with that,” Kucharski said Thursday.

Kucharski said the discovery shouldn’t affect the timeline or the cost of construction of the project. He said the contractor, Nan Inc., switched to a different part of the project while the iwi were taken care of.

“We just went around it,” Kucharski said. “It’s all covered and protected and secured.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said she hasn’t heard any concerns expressed by constituents, but she’s been assured that the iwi have been handled in a respectful manner.

“They have called in the proper authorities and the burial council,” Villegas said. “They will look at the most proper and pono way to do it.”

Archaeological work and environmental surveys were completed prior to construction. Kucharski said the discovery of iwi isn’t unusual during construction projects and procedures are in place to handle it.

“It’s sort of a normal construction issue,” he said. “Most are reasonably expected.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlawed large-capacity cesspools in 1999 and federal funds have been available to help toward that initiative in the years since.

The Lono Kona project will connect 145 assessment units, or the equivalent of 268 single-family homes, across 110 lots to a sewer system. The units are currently serviced by cesspools, all of which the state has mandated be closed by 2050.

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Property owners in 2015 voted to tax themselves to pay at a very low interest rate for what was then a $6.2 million project. Annual payments of around $498 will be made by single-family equivalents until a balance of about $9,100 per single-family unit is paid off.

The rest of the cost is being picked up by the county and federal grants. The county kicked in another $5 million after the project cost escalated to $11 million. The substantial completion date is projected for September.

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