HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Contractors are returning to Waimanalo Bay Beach Park on Thursday, but they won’t be resuming work on the controversial park redevelopment project.
Instead, they will be removing the bulldozer that was set on fire back in May.
An investigation into who torched the construction equipment is still ongoing, but HPD confirms it’s being investigated as first-degree arson, which city officials say is punishable by 20 years in prison.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell confirms the city has suspended construction of a controversial Waimanalo park development project until the State Historical Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council can evaluate a possible artifact that was discovered over the weekend.
Only Hawaii News Now was on scene this week Tuesday as police escorted archaeologists into the area known as Sherwood Forest, though opponents of the park redevelopment refer to the area by its ancestral name Hunananiho.
The inspection was sparked by the discovery of what looks like a stone tool made of basalt, though according to Caldwell, it’s still unclear if the object is an artifact or if it’s significant enough to halt the project.
The $32 million park redevelopment was originally slated for multiple-phases, but has faced strong opposition in recent months leading Caldwell to announce that only Phase 1 — a $1.4 million multi-purpose athletic field, keiki playground and 11-stall parking lot — would be completed.
Construction began in April and has been met with fierce opposition from Save Sherwood Forest, a non-profit organization based out of Waimanalo that believes the project will disturb iwi kupuna (human remains) in an area that is federally recognized as a Native Hawaiian cultural and historical site that they say is the final resting place of their ancestors.
Dispute over whether the park should move forward has divided the community, with some claiming the area is sacred land and others saying they would love a new park that would keep Waimanalo families in Waimanalo instead of traveling to other neighborhoods across the island.
It’s unclear how long the potential artifact assessment will take.