Destruction of historic walls in Niu Valley leads to finger-pointing between agencies

Residents and historians are upset the historic walls along a ridge in Niu Valley were destroyed.
Published: Feb. 3, 2022 at 5:34 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2022 at 6:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Niu Valley, residents and historians are upset that parts of historic walls along a ridge have been destroyed by a home construction project.

The owners had the right permits and that’s led to finger pointing between government agencies.

The home construction site is at 418 Halemaumau St. below Kulepeamoa Ridge near Niu Valley Middle.

Community advocates say they first started hearing complaints about the historic walls by a construction project in May.

More recently, neighbors say they saw truck loads of rock being hauled out.

Chris Cramer is executive director and historian with Maunalua Heritage Center and says Niu Valley is criss-crossed with historic dry stack rock walls.

A portion of that wall was taken out to make room for an upcoming duplex.

“We keep seeing these sites get lost one after the other and it’s really sickening,” said Cramer.

After complaints in May, the city permitted project was temporarily stopped.

The state hired an archaeological firm, but the property owner said he needed to complete his driveway so the state says it allowed that much.

“We were surprised both of us to see this large puka in the stones, the rock,” said one neighbor, who did not want to be identified.

There’s a nearby heiau and kupuna say the area served as a lookout for King Kamehameha I. During the 1930s, more traditional walls were built for ranching.

The damage has started a blame game.

The state Historic Preservation Division says it told the city Department of Planning and Permitting that Niu Valley is a sensitive area before the city issued the permit.

“This work has not protected some of the archaeological features,” said Alan Downer, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division of the DLNR, in a statement.

“DPP has been unwilling to flag this as a sensitive area unless the state provides DPP with a list of all the TMKs, the division wishes to have designated as sensitive,” he added.

But the city fired back.

“SHPD did not provide notification to DPP that significant historic properties are present,” the city department said, in a statement.

“A DPP inspector and DLNR representative inspected the property back in May 2021, when similar concerns of disturbances to historic properties were alleged. At the time, SHPD did not find any disturbances, nor did it notify DPP to flag the property,” the city department added.

Records show the home is owned by husband and wife, Ru Hui Zhang and Liang Hong He along with Xianfeng Cao and Yan Ling Liu. The general contractor is listed as Zhang’s company, Longhui.

Their family representative told Hawaii News Now they did what SHPD asked.

“They followed the original permit to complete the job,” said the family member, who did not want to be identified.

Meanwhile, Cramer said, the incident is part of a bigger problem.

“We are going to see this over and over. This is a broken system,” he said.

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