Clearing of hill angers residents

The Maui News
Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Mahealani Ventura-Oliver, who says she has a family deed to a makai-mauka parcel of land that remains in litigation, walks past Poliala hill while documenting nearby construction with a video camera on Monday morning. Ventura-Oliver and other residents are questioning development of the area. "We've been fighting for our land for years," she said.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
WAIEHU - A sandy hill made noteworthy in a local song has been shaved back to improve safety at the intersection of Malaihi Road and Kahekili Highway, frustrating Native Hawaiians and some upper Waiehu residents who gathered Monday to express their anger that the action was done without notice.

"When does it stop?" asked Oliver Dukelow, shaking his head, as he stared up at the barren dune of Poliala ("Fragrant Hill") that had been chopped off and trenched in the middle.

The recent work by Betsill Brothers Construction Inc. was conducted legally, according to county and state officials who issued permits or approval letters for developers to continue work on their 70-acre Malaihi agricultural subdivision.

But residents were concerned that people who live in the area weren't consulted or included in the decision to shear back the hill and that the State Historic Preservation Division didn't wave a red flag.

"Why did they proceed with the construction?" asked Larry Whitford, who lives in upper Waiehu. "If I were developing the place, I would get mutual agreements between the contractors and the residents. But when the contractor doesn't show up (to meet with residents), there's no discussion."

Monday's event was coordinated by Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who tried to get the in-house attorney for Betsill Brothers and representatives from the state and county to meet with community members and explain what had happened.

Maui County civil engineer Lance Nakamura (right) was on hand to discuss concerns about the construction in Waihee with (from left) Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., Harry Brown, Larry Whitford and Oliver Dukelow on Monday morning. The group of concerned residents met with Nakamura after developers cut into Poliala hill to improve traffic safety at the intersection of Malaihi Road and Kahekili Highway.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Only Maui County sent someone. Lance Nakamura, a civil engineer with the county Department of Public Works and Environmental Management's Development Services Administration, found himself on the hot seat. Nakamura explained that the county received a letter from state historic preservation officials that said construction in the area would have "no impact" on historic features, so there was no reason to think otherwise.

He said the county relied on state historic officials' judgment about the site. He added that residents weren't informed because notification "wasn't required" by law.

Melissa Kirkendall, a state archaeologist, could not attend because she had a prior commitment. Four years ago, state historic preservation officials told the county that, because the property then owned by Wailuku Agribusiness had "been subjected to considerable alteration due to modern commercial agriculture," it was believed the new subdivision would have "no effect" on significant sites.

The parcel was purchased in 2003 by Ko'olau Cattle Co. LLC, owned by Doyle Betsill, according to attorney Gary Zakian. A month ago, Betsill met with Nakamura, Kirkendall, county engineer Eric Pilotin and archaeologist Erik Fredericksen.

State historic preservation officials followed up with another letter. It said an archaeological monitor should be present during trenching for waterlines or electrical tie-ins as well as grading of the hill. Fredericksen was hired and said Monday that he has been providing oversight.

State officials also said an archaeological inventory survey of the entire subdivision should be conducted and, until that happens, the county can hold up the release of a subdivision bond. A field inspection has been done, and an archaeological survey is being undertaken.

Dukelow was still upset that Native Hawaiians with ties to the land were being left out of deciding the right way to do things.

"These people (consultants) are not Browns, not Whitfords," he said, referring to the names of residents. "They're not people who live in this place. You've got other people coming in here and interpreting."

The hill was cropped back to improve sight distances for drivers coming down Malaihi Road who have trouble seeing cars traveling from Waihee on the highway. Because drivers are often speeding, the intersection can be dangerous, although no one could remember an accident occurring at the corner.

map But there were bigger issues simmering below the surface, other than just the shaving of Poliala. The question of land ownership was also raised and, with the black dust fence of the new subdivision fluttering along the highway, it represented another development that will probably be out of the price range of local families.

The Malaihi subdivision will be carved up into 10 large lots.

Mahealani Ventura-Oliver said she has a family deed to a makai-mauka parcel she calls Hananui that includes the subdivision and has taken her case to court. When contacted later, Avery Chumbley, president of Wailuku Agribusiness, said Ventura-Oliver lost her case in 2nd Circuit Court. (It's on appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.)

Chumbley said Title Guaranty had researched ownership of the property and found no problem with its sale from Wailuku Agribusiness to Betsill.

Betsill was traveling out of the country and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Maxwell said many of the lands in the upper Waiehu region are old hui lands. Dukelow agreed and vowed to unite others in the area to support those Hawaiians who have claims.

Charles Stewart of Upper Waie-hu Ku, a community association, said the group has invited Betsill Brothers officials to meet with members and talk about the project, but, so far, they have received no response.

Poliala was written about in the song, "Wailele Waiehu," performed by the Waiehu Sons and sung by Harry Brown, a lifelong resident of the area, who said Monday that he wanted the mound restored. The hill was only part of the story of the land, according to Maxwell, who said the verdant soil once produced some of the most favored taro of Central Maui. Queen Kaahumanu used the parcel as a puuhonua, a place of refuge, he added. The remnants of an agricultural heiau still exist higher up.

Valerie Monson can be reached at

Copyright © 2004 The Maui News.

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