The moon, a thin sliver of white, had just topped the Giant and was barely visible in a robin’s egg blue sky that slowly turned golden when Koko and I went walking this morning. It was cold, about the same temperature — 60 degrees — as my house, and things were looking rosy above Lihue.
Then all the color drained from the sky, leaving it that washed-out white that precedes the dawn, and we kept on walking, stopping to pet two very lonely and very dirty dogs. Just as suddenly, the color reappeared in a flush of scarlet above Kealia, transforming Waialeale from a steel-blue hulk into a majestic purple mountain.
Meanwhile, Joe Brescia continues to transform a Hawaiian burial ground into a luxurious oceanfront spec home, and once again, the Planning Commission refused yesterday to take any action to stop him.
For the second time, Commissioners refused to consider a request by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and attorney Harold Bronstein to require Brescia to show that he has complied with all conditions of his permit.
Commissioner Hartwell Blake, who was absent at the last session, this time joined Commission Vice Chair Herman Texeira in voting against the motion to dismiss the matter. Blake, a former county attorney, also had the courage to recognize the process for the full-on sham that it is. As The Garden Island reported:
The requested order, had it been approved, would have made clear that the commission believes Brescia has not complied with Condition No. 5 of the building location, material and design review, approved in December 2007, which states, “No building permit shall be issued until requirements of the State Historic Preservation Division and the Burial Council have been met.”
Blake said Brescia cannot possibly have met all of SHPD’s requirements because he does not even know what those requirements are because there is no approved burial treatment plan. Responding to his own rhetorical question whether Condition No. 5 has been met, Blake said, “The answer is no.”
It’s hard to believe the Commission can get away with this crap, until you read a little bit farther in the story and see the real reason — as articulated again by Deputy County Attorney Maunakea Trask — why this matter is being swept under the rug (emphasis added):
Trask argued revoking the permits now or even issuing a declaratory order stating the permit conditions have not been followed would fly in the face of Watanabe’s “bifurcated” order and would expose the county to a lawsuit by Brescia claiming the action is a “taking.”
So what it really comes down to is it’s OK to take from Hawaiians and their culture, but it is not OK to even consider taking anything from a mainland developer who knowingly built atop a burial site and has failed to comply with his permit.
“The issue is not whether he had a permit. That’s undeniable,” said Harold Bronstein, an intervenor in the case on behalf of the North Shore ‘Ohana and Caren Diamond. “The issue is whether he violated the permit. And that’s undeniable.”
But hey, don’t let the facts, much less morality, get in the way of your fear over a frigging lawsuit. So what kind of precedent is being set here? That you can just thumb your nose at the Burial Council and breeze on through?
Unfortunately, blowing off cultural concerns — and the law — is nothing new in Hawaii’s approach to land use, nor is it unique to the Islands.
That’s why I was interested to read about an ongoing conflict between between the Mashpee Wampanoag and Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian tribes in Massachusetts and Energy Management Inc. (EMI) a New England based energy company that wants to develop Cape Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind farm, on Nantucket Sound.
The tribes are arguing the 130-turbine project would disturb ancient burial grounds and interfere with ancient spiritual sun-greeting rituals, which require a clear view of the horizon. They want the project, now in its ninth year of the approval process, relocated or dropped.
Now this is really fascinating. Here in Hawaii, it’s culture vs. greedy, insensitive developers. But the stakes are even higher in the Cape Wind case, which pits cultural considerations against energy, the thing that most Americans hold more sacred than anything else.
Not surprisingly, the issue is generating comments like this:
”If there is any legitimate hope for this country to have a renewable energy strategy, we have to demonstrate individual stakeholders cannot block entire agendas,’’ said Robert Kaufmann, professor and chairman of Boston University’s department of geography and the environment.
East Coast newspapers are also pushing for the project, saying it would send a symbol to the world that America is serious about “green” energy.
The National Park Service recently weighed in with native concerns, saying the Nantucket Sound is eligible to be listed on the Historic Register, which affords it more development protection. Now Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is trying to hammer out a compromise, and the developer is talking financial compensation to the tribes.
But you know, some things just don’t have a price tag. As Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe told Indian Country Today:
“My fear is that they’ll try to throw money at us just to go away and let it happen, but what kind of legacy would we be leaving for our children?”
It seems that’s a question that the five Kauai Planning Commissioners who refused to revisit the Brescia permit issues might want to be asking themselves today.