This morning while I was getting ready to jump in the car, I was preparing myself. Preparing myself to be shaken to the core, heartbroken, potentially even arrested.
When I heard that the Waipahe'e slide and natural waterfall structure had been destroyed my brain couldn’t even wrap around it. What does that even mean? I had to see it for myself. My heart sunk to think that right under our noses we could let this happen! How?
When I got up there I was immediately informed and reassured that the waterfall is intact and fine and not been damaged in any structural way. In-fact some of the guys concerned had been invited up to see for their self a few days prior.
Phew! The waterfall is still there!
Those working for the land owner and refusing to open the gate, plead their case explaining that the rumor was started intentionally because of the amount of people coming up there, tourists and locals alike, the liability was too great. Locals were drinking partying and were doing illegal activities up there, and potentially dumping waste. This happens island wide and it needs to be addressed in many capacities, through addressing the lack of ability to dump certain waste and cars on Kaua’i, community education and watchdogging, but it is not a reason to block access to public lands or native inhabitants.
As the day progressed and the conversations (respectfully being carried out between locals, friends and `ohana on both sides of a depressing jail looking electric gate) continued, it became clear that there are many problems and concerns with this site.
We start with the gate. According to current government maps the road is marked as a public government road. The gate is a violation of public access, just as much as it would be for anyone to decide they wished to place a gate for their own private interests across a public road.
The access was the issue of the day. As uncle Liko arrived with the maps fresh out of the Department of Land and Natural Resources files it became even clearer that there were additional concerns with the access rights and land ownership of this area.
Land Ownership & Use
It is not private land at all. It is mapped as a Forest Reserve. This is in opposition to the claims being made by workers refusing access that the land was ‘sold’ from the plantations and currently privately owned by their boss, Tom Mccloskey. However, the maps suggest that the land is actually a Forest Reserve being leased at a cost of $1.7 acre/year. That is one dollar and 70 cents, per acre, per year.
This immediately raises concerns about the agricultural designation process and raises further concerns.
Access for Native Inhabitants
Precedent has been set with multiple previous cases that clearly establish native people have access to natural resources for hunting and gathering and other purposes. Kanaka cannot be denied access to these areas. This is a violation of multiple laws and conventions for native inhabitants. However despite this, today the land occupier repeatedly insisted that his workers refuse access to Hawaiians attending the site to hunt gather and maintain their ‘aina and water sources. Multiple Hawaiians were denied their rights today to not only access a site, that we now know is a forest reserve, but also access to a US government public road. These are clear violations of their rights under many levels of law, including international.
What’s actually happening with the water diversions on site? According to Hawaiians on the front line this site has recently been diverted with evidence of new concrete diversions. Where are the permits for this process and the environmental assessment of these diversions, if they exist? Are these diversions in violation of more recent water catchment laws or have they been entirely inherited from sugar? Are these old diversions impacting ecosystems downstream, robbing the system of sustenance?
Tourist Access & the Blue Book
The ‘Blue Book’ destroys lives. We need a collaborative meeting with those responsible to clearly outline places that tourists are in no way to be brought or encouraged to go, especially alone. We need to put lives and culture above profit and the tourist industry. We can do this by taking key places off brochures and out of things like ‘the blue book’. We can work with stakeholders to get the right information into tourists hands and provide specific areas, where oversight and education is provided, that are tourist encouraged and advertised sites. These sites can be well funded and kept to manage capacity, but we can not be encouraging self guided missions to places that are dangerous, sacred and kapu. This is simply unacceptable. Some system like this would establish places where local families could feel comfortable going occasionally but tourists are unlikely to even hear about. Locals shouldn’t be paying the prices for poorly and misguided tourists who make bad decisions.
Trash, Drugs, Crime and Degradation of the Site
It is clear from the conversations that the people on both sides of the fence are acting from the love for and the desire to protect this place and this is a strong common ground we share. Those on the other side explained the thousands they have spent, often out of their own money to clean and restore the area after cars, waste and degradation of the site has occurred. This is a problem island wide and it needs to be addressed systemically and holistically, because it is unacceptable anywhere, but it is a separate issue.
Police Oversight Costs
As police surrounded a handful of us and listened to the conversation take place, it became apparent that the KPD had, once again, been put between the public interest and the private. I think they handled today incredibly well; their approach to non violent and thoughtful policing was exceptional. How much did that cost our taxpayers today to deny our rights and who pays for this?