Honolulu Rail Authority: Archeological Survey Mandated by Court is Done Ahead of Schedule

Paulette Kaleikini and her attorneys from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation stopped construction on the city's rail project until the Archeological Surveys are completed
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Paulette Kaleikini

Paulette Kaleikini and attorneys from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation won a major victory in the Hawaii Supreme Court in August when all five justices unanimously ruled the City & County of Honolulu must complete an archeological survey of its entire planned 20-mile elevated steel rail system before beginning construction. The Supreme Court justices said the city and state violated the law when they authorized the project without first inspecting all 20 miles of the project for native Hawaiian burials or iwi.

Kaleikini was concerned the rail would impact a number of large graveyards where her native Hawaiian ancestors may be buried. Hawaii law requires native Hawaiian burials be treated as if they are any modern graveyard, but this can complicate and delay construction on major projects because iwi are scattered heavily throughout Honolulu, particularly in downtown Honolulu.


Over the last several months, Kaleikini and her family members have literally stood watch as archeologists for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) sped up their trench work to complete the Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS), but that concerned Kaleikini because she said archeologists were not digging below the water table where many ancient burial sites are found, rather were keeping their inspection to the surface.

On February 4, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation officials announced they’ve completed the fieldwork ahead of schedule and plan to resume construction on the rail later this year.

HART said the archeologists excavated more than 400 trenches along the 20-mile rail route that runs from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. That included “92 trenches in Kapolei and Waipahu, 34 trenches in the Pearl City/Aiea area, 47 in the Pearl Harbor and Airport areas, and 260 in the CityCenter section between Middle Street and Ala Moana.”

The city agency said human remains were found at seven sites in the City Center section, and the state, Oahu Island Burial Council and other stakeholders will have to determine whether to leave the remains in place, reroute the rail or relocate the remains.

“Anticipating the possibility of finding iwi in the Honolulu area, HART set up a protocol for the treatment of such finds in coordination with the SHPD, the O`ahu Island Burial Council and other stakeholders. HART staff members have determined that if the decision is made to leave burials in place, HART would be able to adjust the final design to accommodate that request,” HART’s report said.

HART said in a statement that its principals have scheduled a meeting on Thursday, February 7th, at 6 p.m at the Hawaii Community Development Authority office at 461 Cooke Street in Kaka`ako “with recognized cultural and lineal descendants, applicants for recognition as cultural and lineal descendants, and other interested parties,” to review the findings and burial treatment plans.

Kaleikini’s attorney, David Kimo Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, could not comment yet on whether his client is satisfied with the city trenching.





  1. The question now is was the AIS done in the correct locations. The rail project has preliminary drawings from 2009 that show where potential rail columns and stations will go. However, the final design for rail from Aloha Stadium to Ala Moana Center is still being worked out. AECOM Technical Services Inc is the engineering firm hired by the city to do the engineering work that will lead to bid documents and finally bids (at this time, the city does not have bids on 50% of the project). When AECOM is finished, will their footprint for rail be the same as the 2009 Parsons maps? AECOM is the first engineering firm to investigate the underground utilities in rail's path. If they find that it will be cheaper and faster to build a rail column by moving it 25 feet along the route because of underground utilities, do they have authorization to move it? If they do, then the actual footprint for rail could be very different when they are finished from the 2009 Parsons maps. In that case, the AIS will need to be done again to reflect the true rail footprint.

  2. "The city agency said human remains were found at seven sites in the City Center section, and the state, Oahu Island Burial Council and other stakeholders will have to determine whether to leave the remains in place, reroute the rail or relocate the remains"
    One more note on the rail. Check this report. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/18530336/counc

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