Police suspect heavy equipment blaze at controversial development was intentionally set

Updated: May. 23, 2019 at 10:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu police officials believe heavy-duty machinery that was being used to clear ironwood trees at Sherwood Forest were intentionally set ablaze late Wednesday.

Investigators say the incident happened at around 10:30 p.m. No injuries were reported, but police are also without any suspects or eyewitnesses.

Responding firefighters were aware that the project in the area was being contested and called police when they arrived at the scene. Once firefighters put out the flames, police started to gather evidence.

HFD says the damage sustained to the machinery is estimated at $250,000.

Crews contracted by the city have been clearing the forest at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park as part of a controversial park development project. Community groups have held several protests over the $32 million park renovation project, which opponents say is both unneeded and unwanted.

Supporters say it will offer residents from across Windward Oahu an important gathering place.

In recent days, critics of the development have grown increasingly frustrated and vocal — in part because of a city flier distributed at a neighborhood board meeting that claimed an environmental impact statement determined the project would “not have significant environmental impacts.”

However, an EIS was never done — only an environmental assessment, which is a much less thorough review to determine whether or not an EIS should even be done. In this case, it was never ordered.

City officials are now saying the flier had a typo, in which an EIS — not EA — is mentioned five times. But some community members say the feel deliberately misled.

Critics say they will continue their fight to keep the redevelopment from moving forward, but they do not condone the actions of whoever set the fires Wednesday night.

“I know that it hurts the brothers that are contractors here, because that was their own personal equipment,” said Kalani Kalima. “I’m guessing that it is their way of saying enough is enough, whomever may have started this.”

Lawyers representing the community organization Save Our Sherwoods say they were ‘deeply saddened’ by the arson attack.

“We understand and share the feelings of deep frustration, shock, and outrage that many in the community have expressed,” read a portion of the group’s statement. “Anyone who would like to support our peaceful demonstrations and efforts can visit our Save Our Sherwoods Facebook page for more information.”

In the meantime, Phase 1 of the project is already underway. Crews are clearing the trees at Sherwood Forest for a multi-purpose athletic field, keiki playground and an 11-stall parking lot.

Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed in 2020, but both City Councilman Ikaika Anderson and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell say they have no plans to pursue any further phases of development.

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