HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A site where heroes are laid to rest in Hawaii is running out of space. The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is moving ahead with expansion plans while trying to balance the concerns of Native Hawaiians. The cemetery opened to the public in 1949, but it's expected to run out of room in three years.
"There are plans to put additional 7,000 columbarium niches at this site. This will keep the cemetery open for our veterans, make it available for them for the next 15 years," said retiring director Gene Castagnetti.
The project calls for a new administration and visitor center building to be built on a parcel right outside the cemetery gates. Then the current visitor facility will be torn down and the columbarium for the new niches will be built at the demolition site.
"We're moving ahead up in Washington right now. They're looking towards selection of a contractor," said Castagnetti.
"We wish there was no need for the National Cemetery of the Pacific to expand outside of its present gates, but we understand the need," said Harold Johnston of the Papakolea Community Development Corporation.
Johnston is a former Marine. He is also part of the Native Hawaiian group that has 14 acres of land along the slopes below the sacred site.
"We want to make sure that any kupuna iwi or any archaeologically significant items that are found are treated with respect and they have the proper disposition," said Johnston.
The organization is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the cemetery on the construction plans.
"They've agreed to let us have a cultural practitioner from our community to participate in their surveys," said Johnston.
The initial government estimate for the expansion is $16 million. A groundbreaking on the five-acre lot is expected in January.
The project includes sign replacement and roadway repairs.
Castagnetti said there are also possible plans for columbarium niches in other sections of the cemetery.