My Turn: Facts still matter in Laaloa dispute

Going back in time, between 1906-1908 a famous archaeologist named Stokes identified a religious temple, the Haukalua Heiau. In 1973 the area now known as Laaloa Beach Park was placed on the State of Hawaii Registry of Historic Places, the religious temple (Haukalua Heiau) was listed as well as several burials and other historic properties. The County of Hawaii condemned the property in 1993 to build a parking lot.

After the County of Hawaii announced plans to build an 80-stall parking lot at Laaloa in 1994, Hawaiians and other stakeholders at Laaloa consulted with na kupuna (elders) and rallied every Hawaiian organization on Hawaii Island. In January 1995 the Kona Hawaiian Civic Club arranged a series of meetings with County of Hawaii officials, agreements were made that instead of building a parking lot, the historical properties at Laaloa, would be preserved and protected, and a community-based cultural center would be created at no cost to taxpayers.


In May of 1996 the county arbitrarily canceled any and all agreements with the organization (Laaloa Ohana) that was moving forward with developing the cultural center, the reasoning being, the purported “theft of electricity” and “raising of chickens.” Keep in mind, the Laaloa Ohana was guided by the most respected Hawaiian leaders on our island, such as Uncle Leon Sterling who became our kahu, Uncle George Naope, who was a master of hula, and many more.

From that point forward members of the Laaloa Ohana formed a partnership with the state of Hawaii Historic Preservation Division, and began a decades-long journey, according the strict historic preservation laws (HRS 6E) of the state of Hawaii, to attempt to bring the County of Hawaii into compliance with those laws. So far, there remains multiple violations and each day of each violation constitutes a separate violation, according to HRS 6E-11.5, civil penalties.

Many folks, including the County of Hawaii, seem not to understand the historic preservation laws of the state of Hawaii, especially when government is involved. They are strict and the penalties can be horrific. The short story is while most of the historic properties have been severely injured, the most well documented is iwi aina (site 21218).

The county admitted in October of 2002 they severely injured and damaged this site. HRS 6E-11.5 requires a minimum daily fine of $500, up to a maximum of $10,000, until the site is repaired. At this moment the site has not been repaired, more than 5,840 days, with the minimum mandatory civil penalties totaling over $2.9 million and up to a maximum of $58.4 million. It is apparent the state of Hawaii intended to make these daily civil penalties oppressive. remember at least 4 other historic properties have been injured by the County of Hawaii.


The county of Hawaii has repeatedly been told by DLNR they are required to place protective buffers, interpretive/cautionary signage to protect each registered historic site at Laaloa, yet continues to fail to do so? Uncle Leon Sterling said it best in 1996, on our prior dealings, and dealings with the County of Hawaii over the next two decades “Broken promises, unexplained delays, waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Ron Cawthon is a resident of Kailua-Kona.