HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officers arrested 28 people Thursday who were blocking construction equipment and crews from accessing a Waimanalo park, where a controversial $32 million redevelopment project is underway. Several of those taken into custody pledged to return.
Scores of protesters started gathering early Thursday at the entrance to Sherwood Forest and Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, and more than 30 sat across the entrance road to block vehicle access.
Later in the morning, a massive police presence ― at least 100 officers strong ― responded, with officers on foot and on bikes surrounding the area. And at 9 a.m., as protesters chanted, cried and held signs, officers started to arrest those on the roadway who refused to move after being told to do so.
They were booked with with obstruction of a highway or public passage.
“You cannot say the mauna is disconnected from this. This is about the aina. This is about listening to the people and have the people be the voice,” said Sharon Kershner, who spoke to Hawaii News Now after she was released from HPD’S Kailua receiving desk.
In an afternoon news conference, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the protest was peaceful and applauded both sides for keeping the calm. But he said that the first phase of the project, currently underway, will move forward. And he added that he’s heard from many in the community who still support it.
Phase 1 includes the construction of a multi-purpose athletic field, playground and 11-stall parking lot.
Caldwell said subsequent phases of the project will not move forward under his administration.
“As mayor, I listen to all voices, not just the loudest voice,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful there will be no more arrests. “I’d like to see a healing occur.”
Opponents say the project will desecrate iwi kupuna, or ancestral remains. The city has disputed that claim, saying phase 1 disturbs four acres closest to the highway where no known iwi are located.
Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo, Save our Sherwoods president, said the protest isn’t about a park.
“We will no longer allow for the continued desecration of our sacred places,” he said. "If you do nothing, nothing happens.”
The protests closed both directions of Kalanianaole Highway in the area, but the thoroughfare has since reopened.
Several City Council members have called on the city to halt the project, at least for now.
“It’s not worth it to tear apart a community to build a park,” said City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, in a news release. “Watching the activity in Waimanalo today, with the arrests and the outpouring of the protesters’ passion, I was very overwhelmed with emotion."
Frustration and anger over the project have been simmering for months, as those opposed to the redevelopment appealed to the City Council to step in and held sign waving rallies to garner support.
But this week marks the first time that opponents of the project have attempted to prevent construction by blocking access to Waimanalo Bay Beach Park.
It’s not, however, the first time police have been called out to the area.
In May, fire officials believe someone deliberately set an excavator and bulldozer on fire. The heavy duty machinery was being used to clear ironwood trees at Sherwood Forest. An investigation continues.
The park renovation project had widespread support when plans were first announced a decade ago.
But in recent months, sentiment on the plan appears to have turned.
Supporters of the park renovation call it a gift that it keeps Waimanalo families in Waimanalo.
But in addition to the potential for disturbing iwi, opponents have raised concerns about increased traffic through the residential neighborhoods. They say the county shouldn’t have allowed development of what they describe as a Hawaiian burial site.
They have also expressed concern that construction could displace a Native Hawaiian bat.