HEEIA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Agricultural restoration work in an area where ancient Hawaiians used to farm has all but stopped - after thieves stole about 20 thousand dollars worth of equipment. Without it, a non-profit Hawaiian group that's been working the land can't plant.
Not only did thieves ignore the sign at the front gate that says, "Authorized Entry Only", they cut the chains locking the gate. From there, they used blowtorches on the storage containers up the road.
"They heated this up," says Liko Kaluhiwa, a worker with the project, Mahuahua Ai o Hoi. He holds up a lock that's been torched. "This was all burnt in the morning, and then, they pried (the container) open." Kaluhiwa then steps into the huge container and shows us the empty shelves where the equipment used to sit.
"Up here, we had an extended chainsaw where you can cut high trees," explains Kaluhiwa. "And on each of these shelves, we had weedeaters, brand new weedeaters, some that have never been used before."
Chainsaws, weed whackers, water pumps, craftsman tools, and a tent - all gone. So is the donated, green, Chevy king cab truck that would haul all that equipment.
"We're not here 24/7, so they could have come in after hours when we're not working, and they could have, kind of, cased the joint, so to speak," says Kakoo Oiwi spokeswoman Mahealani Cypher.
Kakoo Oiwi is a non-profit Hawaiian group that's been working to restore nearly 400 acres at the foot of the Koolau mountains in He'eia into fertile farm land. Ancient Hawaiians used to grow native foods and plants here for much of the island of Oahu. Over the centuries, it's become overgrown and under-utilized - until this project started a few years ago.
We walk by high grass as far as the eye can see – and the volunteers point out the importance of the weedwhackers and other hand tools. They use them to cut this tall grass back and clear the area so they can plant taro.
Volunteers hope to turn at least 200 acres into taro fields. Right now, they're not permitted to use heavy equipment - so all the hard labor is done by hand.
"We'd like to appeal to the people who took the equipment to return it because it's pono ole (immoral) to steal from a community project like this - where it's made up of volunteers and donations. We can't really afford to go out and buy all the equipment again," says Cypher.
The group says it's a painful loss, and they're hoping cooler heads will prevail in the end. They just want their tools back - no questions asked.