In January 2021, the Hawaii Community Development Authority announced they were allowing Keaulana to look into developing 19-acres of vacant state land in Kalaeloa, on Oahu. The proposed $106 million project, called Honokea Surf Village, would feature a 5-acre wave pool, lazy river and skate park. In January of 2023, the HCDA found that the project would have no significant environmental impact. Then, in April of 2023, Honokea filed its first permit, which was approved on May 3.
However, the proposed park has been met with opposition from a group of Native Hawaiian and environmental activists. The group, Na Kiai o Wai Ha, filed a lawsuit in state circuit court with the goal of barring the project from going forward.
The suit claims the park’s seven-million-gallon pool would damage nearby limu, or seaweed, through the use of injection wells. “This area is a hot bed for native limu (seaweed) and one of the last places a lot of limu exist and plaintiffs are very concerned of the harm the injected water might have on native limu beds,” said Ryan Hurley, one of the attorneys representing the group.
The suit also claims the park could possibly disturb iwi kupuna, or ancient burials. “You had over 80 plus families that were living, cultivating land here. So, a lot of their descendants were buried in this area all over the place, you can’t really say where it is,” said Dayne Kahau, another spokesperson for the plaintiffs.
“They’re profiting off a cultural practice by controlling it by making these wave pools, which are going to destroy the actual beach that is nearby,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale, a plaintiff in the case. “I cannot speak for other Hawaiians. All I can I say is as a Hawaiian … it goes against my culture.”
In a statement posted on the Honokea website, Keaulana responded, “As a descendant of generations of Native Hawaiian surfers and watermen, I am disappointed by the misguided accusations being levied against Honokea West. This project is motivated by my ʻohana’s love for the ‘āina, kai and our people. Honokea West will integrate Hawaiian values into every aspect of our guest experience and will share our surfing traditions and values.”
“We are aware of our island’s water concerns and will be integrating conservation into our operations. The project site in Kalaeloa has been in disrepair for decades. We’ve met with a number of Hawaiian cultural advisors and conducted extensive archaeological and environmental studies to ensure that we protect and mālama the site. We will mālama the area and cultivate the parcel into a center of cultural and recreational excellence where all feel welcomed and safe – especially disadvantaged youth and those with disabilities.”
As AP reports, A hearing is set for July and it’s not clear when a judge might rule. Keaulana has stated he hopes to settle the dispute using a hooponopono, a traditional form of mediation, and project opponents have expressed their openness to such a meeting.