Maui cultural leaders say they were shocked to see county contractors truck tons of sacred rocks out of Iao Valley recently, as part of repairs in the area following September's major flooding.
But county officials say there's no reason to be concerned.
State and county crews are still cleaning up after the major flooding, and recently community members protested when truckloads of sacred rocks or pohaku were carted out of the area -- famous as the site of an ancient battle.
"Truck loads of pohaku being removed from Iao and being taken to off-site," said Kumu Hula Napua Greig Nakasone.
"That river holds great, great mana. Many of our fallen warriors are there. So to us, truckloads of pohaku being hauled out without any explanation or communication, all these red flags went off," she said.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe expressed his concerns over the situation in a November letter to the county.
"Native Hawaiian beneficiaries and cultural practitioners expressed their objection to the crushing and destruction of pohaku during this process due to the sacredness of 'Iao Valley," he wrote.
Maui County says it took great care with the rocks, and that contractors were required to replace any rock that was removed to its original place.
Rocks were removed and hauled away to an emergency debris sorting facility in Waikapu, but then all the rocks were returned, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone told Hawaii News Now.
"It was always our intention to return the boulders to the valley and that's what was done," he wrote in an email.
Still, Nakasone said the county showed a lack of sensitivity to cultural groups who ensure Iao is being properly cared for.
"Lack of communication can really add to the community fear. It can breed distrust," she said.
Meanwhile, the county said Kepaniwai Park repairs should be complete before the summer, and the state expects to reopen Iao Valley State Park in June. However, vehicles may not be able to travel and park deep into the park because of the ground's instability. Parking areas may have to be adjusted.