Disputed Honolulu park project halted over virus concerns

HONOLULU — Honolulu’s mayor has announced a city park construction project will be put on hold after expressing concern about gatherings of protesters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell was criticized for ordering construction to resume Monday in a section of Waimanalo Bay Beach Park known as Sherwood Forest, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

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Residents are under stay-at-home orders to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, but protesters gathered at the park Monday.

Much of the opposition to the $1.43 million project comes from Native Hawaiian activists who want to preserve Sherwood Forest, where about 100 ancestral bones have been found.

“I greatly support the First Amendment rights of all members of our community but I am greatly concerned with gatherings during this time,” Caldwell said in a statement Tuesday. “In order to allow for people to focus on staying at home during this time, I am going to pause this project while we consult with the appropriate entities.”

Caldwell will continue talking with State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Burial Council officials, he said.

Honolulu City Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Honolulu Councilwoman Kym Pine were among the elected officials who called on Caldwell to stop construction.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

City officials said in January they planned to continue the first phase of the development involving an 11-stall parking lot and a grassy field for gatherings and cultural activities.

Caldwell reported that a 3-inch bone fragment was found by an archaeological monitor during construction Monday.

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Tracy Newman of Friends of Sherwood Forest said Caldwell’s decision to halt construction came too late, noting 12 feet (3.6 meters) of vegetation that was in place Sunday had been removed.

“So in a year’s time that historic site has been desecrated completely twice,” Newman said.

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