For the first time in the four years since Hawaii County purchased land at Kawa Bay, Abel Lui won’t be living there.
Hawaii County officials evicted Lui, whom state courts ruled — after years of challenges — was illegally occupying the land at Kawa Bay, and several others Thursday morning. The county also shut down access to the beach and surrounding property for the next 30 days.
One woman was arrested during the eviction.
The ban will allow work to begin on an archaeological inventory survey, said county Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau.
“Abel (Lui) and (the others) all knew the day was coming,” Lau said Thursday morning, as he walked from a spot near the highway toward the beach. “They didn’t know when it was coming.”
But the removal of Lui, Moses Heanu and Katrina Morgan, as well as several campers, wasn’t just about clearing people from the property, which the county purchased in three parcels, Lau said.
“We have a responsibility to the iwi kupuna, we’ve got to make sure we protect them,” he said, adding visits to the property in late September revealed more than 60 burials, including 49 in just one site. He said it’s unusual to find so many burials in one location. The property also has a heiau and hundreds of other archaeological features.
Lau said the Police Department will post officers at the property’s entrance around-the-clock for the next 30 days. The archaeological inventory survey and subsequent preservation and treatment plans, as well as an overall management plan for the area, will take longer than that, but this first month should be enough time to get started, he said.
Sheriffs served Lui, Heanu and Morgan the county’s writ of possession just after 7 a.m. The three were given two hours to collect their personal belongings and vacate the property. Lau said Morgan became emotional during the procedure. Ka‘u Capt. Andrew Burian said Morgan did not cooperate and was arrested and taken to the Kealakehe Police Station for processing, where she would be charged with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. Morgan would be released on her own recognizance and given a court date, he said.
“With people coming down here, (the historical sites) were in jeopardy,” Burian said. “The priority is to allow the sites to be safeguarded, documented and properly protected.”
The ultimate goal, Burian said, isn’t to exclude Lui from the property forever.
“I would hope people understand it’s not about one particular person,” he said. “It’s about the long term. It’s for the good of the community in the long term.”
Lui was, for the most part, cooperative, Burian added.
“I do appreciate that,” he said. “He’s got a stake in this.”
Lui, reached by phone Thursday afternoon, said he sees himself as the land’s caretaker. He expressed concern for the garden he’d planted at Kawa, and said police allowed him to water the plants before leaving. He declined to comment on whether he would attempt to return before the 30 days expired, or what his next steps would be.
“Nothing has changed,” Lui added. “Ka‘u was never conquered. This is my ancestral land. The land belongs to God. God gave the land to the chiefs, to the people to malama.”
Later in the conversation he said he would return.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I will go back to the land.”
He questioned why the county came to the property now to remove him, after four years of negotiations, conversations and court actions.
“What is the rush that they come and cause this?” Lui said. “Even (Wally) Lau came.”
Hawaii County purchased a 234-acre parcel at Kawa from the Edmund Olson Trust in January 2008. In February 2011, the county filed a complaint to get full possession of that land, while the Trust filed a similar petition for two parcels it intended to sell to the county. The court granted those requests in June 2011, and the county purchased another 550 acres from the trust in November.
Families with connections to Kawa began identifying burials and historical sites to county and state officials this summer. Lau said Thursday the county cannot manage the large, undeveloped parcel on its own, and the families have expressed interest in helping with a stewardship plan.
Lau said Mayor Billy Kenoi gave him instructions not to bulldoze any of Lui’s or other people’s possessions on the property. Each structure will be dismantled, by hand, and taken to the Ka‘u Police Station in Naalehu, where the owners may claim the items. County workers were pouring gravel near the entrance Thursday morning to smooth out the road, so other county vehicles could access the campsites and other areas where Lui and his supporters had constructed shelters and posted signs.