Archeologists surveying the planned route of Honolulu’s rapid transit line discovered a single human bone fragment yesterday afternoon near Cooke Street in Kakaako.
Representatives of the State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council “were contacted on September 12 and did a site visit on the morning of September 13,” said Deborah Ward of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“SHPD and the OIBC have agreed to leave the bone fragment in place for the time being, and have asked the archaeological firm to continue excavating the surrounding area,” Ward said.
“Excavation around the bone fragment will provide better information about the cultural layer in which the bone fragment was found and how best to plan for this area,” she said.
Trenches along the rail route are excavated in areas where construction of rail support columns, stations and related structures are planned. The surveys are intended to identify where ancient Hawaiian remains – iwi kupuna – are buried.
Previous to this find, rail construction along the 20-mile project route has been halted until archeological surveys along the downtown and Ala Moana sections of the line have been completed.
The city ceased construction after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled last month that all the surveying should have been completed before ground was broken for the $5.2 billion project.
In a unanimous 82-page opinion in Kaleikini v. Yoshioka, Hawaii Supreme Court justices said the City did not comply with the State’s historic preservation and burial protection laws when it failed to complete an archeological inventory survey for the 20-mile route before starting construction.
Paulette Kaleikini, a native Hawaiian with family members buried in Kakaako, possibly in the rail’s path, was represented by Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and Frankel when she challenged the city’s decision to begin construction in the state’s highest court.
Kehaunani Abad, PhD, an archeologist specializing in native Hawaiian burials, called the Kakaako area “burial central.”
The high court also maintained “it is undisputed that the rail project has a ‘high’ likelihood of having a potential effect on archeological resources….”
Head of the transit project, Daniel Grabauskas, said on Thursday morning that his agency is “working closely with the State Historic Preservation Division, the Oahu Island Burial Council and other stakeholders to ensure that iwi kupuna are treated respectfully, with great sensitivity and in accordance with state burial laws.”
Grabauskas reported to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Board Thursday morning that the Supreme Court ruling will delay construction for at least 6 to 9 months if everything goes well. But he did not mention the archeological find in the meeting.
Other transportation experts have speculated the delays could add as much as 18 months to the project or kill it all together.
Meanwhile, the city continues to try to get the Hawaii Supreme Court to change its mind. The city earlier this week filed a motion asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling in favor of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.