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Rocky Road H-3 Freeway accidents-Special Report

Special Report

Rockey Road

Even with the opening at hand, many Hawaiians say protests may not end

By Pat Omandam


Four years ago this month, Laulani Teale chose the place where she would give birth. It wasn’t a hospital or her home, but a site native Hawaiians call Hale O Papa, a women’s heiau tucked against a lush hillside in North Halawa Valley.

The state by then had backed off from plans to build the H-3 Freeway over the heiau, which officially has the impersonal designation B-175. But to Teale, who was part of the protest that led to the rerouting, the valley had a strong spiritual pull. As the Waimanalo woman settled in a small shaded clearing with just a few friends beside her, she felt what she was doing was good and right, or pono.

Bruce Kato Holds Up The Flag

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Bruce Kato holds up the Hawaiian flag to protest, along
with others, the “Great Trans-Koolau Trek”
on the H-3 on May 11.

Now, with the freeway opening a week away and her son Noa getting ready for another birthday, feelings for the valley remain strong, with Teale and others saying opposition to the H-3 will never end until it is removed.

“To me, the H-3 is a temporary thing, anyway,” she said. “The land is permanent. As far as what happens between now and this supposed opening…that’s up to Mother Nature.”

To many native Hawaiians, the $1.3 billion, 16.1-mile project is a travesty that destroyed dozens of cultural sites in both Halawa and Kaneohe and forever compromised those that were saved. While nothing has been announced, they warn sporadic protests may arise like the one during the “Great Trans-Koolau Trek” on Mother’s Day.

Haunani-Kay Trask, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, said the H-3 highlights a long list of reminders that Hawaiians need a sovereign entity of equal legal standing with the U.S. government.

“Because struggle after struggle, we protest, we talk about sacred sites, we talk about the destruction of the land at whatever development that we’re protesting will cause, and then we lose,” she said.

Experts continue to disagree about the archeological significance of the area and, even as wheels begin rolling on the freeway, final survey reports have not been released. The major Halawa Valley sites in dispute are Hale O Papa and the Luakini heiau, or men’s complex. Both are along an access road under the freeway, enclosed by wire fences with signs reserving the area for cultural use only.

Hale O Papa, as seen recently, resembles a small, serene nature park: Neat rows of ti leaves and small stones border a grass path leading to two worn picnic tables. In contrast, thick overgrowth at the Luakini heiau about a quarter mile away covers stone terraces which Hawaiians contend were part of a major heiau.

In May 1992, the state decided to realign the freeway at a cost of $10 million to avoid both sites. The decision came after Barry Nakamura, then a Bishop Museum assistant anthropologist, publicly accused the museum of hiding their significance, sparking protest marches and vigils. He contended, and still insists, the heiaus were part of a vast religious complex ancient Hawaiians built in the valley.

“I thought it would have been a shame if these sites were destroyed, if this complex was destroyed, and the information came out only later,” he said. “I thought that was immoral, actually.”

Trans Koolau Tunnel

By David Swann, Star-Bulletin
This is a small version of a 430K graphic by Star-Bulletin staff
artist David Swann. Click on the image to see the
(very large) full-sized version.

Nakamura, who settled a whistle-blower lawsuit against the museum and now teaches history at Leeward Community College, thinks the S-curve realignment destroyed the complex anyway by cutting through the middle of it. But Russ Cordy disagrees, asserting the issue arose because the museum’s archeologist at the time was unfamiliar with the islands, leading to Nakamura’s faulty conclusions.

Cordy, the State Historic Preservation Office’s chief of archeology, said most of the discoveries in the upper valley were scattered houses and family burial sites — no large heiau, homes for chiefs or major burial grounds. Records show the larger heiau was in the lower valley, where Aloha Stadium stands, he said.

“All this stuff about the Luakini heiau that appeared, that was nonsense,” he said. “It was the worst archeological interpretation I’ve ever seen in my life for Hawaii.”

Ironically, both men agree that surveys should have been taken before any ground was broken. If that was done, Cordy believes the freeway would have run through Moanalua Valley — the original proposed corridor, changed after protests — since it has the fewest archeological sites based on what is known today.

East Kaneohe

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Large directional signs are already in place at Red Hill.

Toni Auld Yardley, one of the women who occupied Hale O Papa and now its state cultural monitor, blames the lack of an inventory for the unnecessary destruction of culturally important areas. She points to a cliffside image of a large owl as evidence the site was a religious one, although experts have told Transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali the pueo is a natural formation, and not carved.

For all the dispute over Halawa, at least something remains to argue over. In Kaneohe, the site known as the Kukuiokane heiau was destroyed during construction and lies buried under tons of H-3 concrete. UH Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa said it probably was the island’s largest heiau, dedicated to the Hawaiian agricultural god Kane, who in earlier times was associated with large temples and human sacrifices.

H-3 Facts


  • The H-3 Freeway is 38 feet wide, consisting of two 12-foot lanes, a 10-foot right shoulder and a four-foot left shoulder. It has two sets of tunnels, two long viaducts and 26 bridges.
  • The Halawa-bound tunnel is 5,165 feet long, and the Kaneohe-bound tunnel stretches 4,890 feet. Comparable tunnels on the Pali Highway are 1,500 and 1,577 feet long, and on the Likelike Highway, 2,775 and 2,813 feet long.
  • Tunnel walls are finished with 3.3 million tiles, made in Germany and set by hand. The tiles are nonporous, making them easier to clean, and come in three shades of blue. Darker tiles on the bottom will mask road grime and lighter tiles on top will aid in reflecting light. The pattern repeats every 12 tiles.
  • Tunnel systems will monitor for fires, accidents and disabled vehicles. Traffic loops spaced 500 feet apart will sense each vehicle’s size and speed, and project the time to reach the next set of loops. If a vehicle does not reach them within projected times, an alarm will be sent to a traffic-control operator, who will check through a closed-circuit TV system.


Source: State Department of Transportation.



The state argues large stone structures and burials discovered there likely were part of a large dryland agricultural terrace, but even then Kame’eleihiwa says it should have been saved as an unusual find.


“We have lost an incredible treasure of the Hawaiian ancestors,” she said. “Every time somebody drives over it, they are driving over the bones that have been buried at that heiau.”


To address Hawaiian concerns, the state is working on an agreement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to develop interpretive cultural centers in both Halawa and Haiku valleys. Plans tentatively call for OHA to get $11.2 million in federal highway funds to build them, but OHA is worried about maintaining the public centers since its own funds only can be used for people with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood.


An OHA committee is expected to discuss the “H-3 enhancement and mitigation plan” in the next few months. Meanwhile, the reorganized protest group Malama Halawa/Kaneohe Ohana wants to be included, concerned that initial plans calling for hot-dog stands and other commercial ventures will take the focus away from restoration and education.


The gates to the access road now are being guarded by sheriff’s deputies. Kali said people who want to reach the sites will be allowed, although from where is still being worked out. The state plans to bar vehicles from the valley soon, which will lessen intrusions. But Teale alludes to another way residents can show their respect for the Hawaiian culture and their feelings about the freeway.


“To drive something like that is sacrilegious,” she said. “Don’t kid yourself.”





By Kathrun Bender, Star-Bulletin
The cliffside image of an owl overlooks the Hale O Papa
heiau site in Halawa Valley. The H-3 was rerouted
around the heiau.


Opening precedes land reports Most of the archaeological surveys aren’t completed


By Pat Omandam




Motorists curious about the physical impact the decades-old H-3 freeway project has had on Haiku and Halawa valleys are not alone.


Despite a total payout to Bishop Museum of $22.3 million for contract archaeology, two-thirds of the H-3’s final archaeological surveys won’t be done until after the freeway opens Dec. 12, says Marilyn Kali, spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department.


So far, the museum has completed four final reports on H-3, and has eight more due. Kali said two of the eight reports are expected in the next six months. The remaining reports include a history of the Halawa ahupua’a, inventories of the Luluku area in Kaneohe and of North Halawa Valley, and a data recovery report on North Halawa Valley.


About $2.5 million of the $22.3 million has not yet been spent, she said.
“It’s not that the information wasn’t available,” Kali said. “Its been available for years.”
Kali explained archaeologists have submitted interim reports to the State Historic Preservation Office that contain all the information used for the final reports. Still, both interim and final reports haven’t been punctual in the last 10 years. Reasons cited included staff turnover at the museum, construction delays and design changes that affected archaeological work.


Portuguese oven from the 1900


By Kathrun Bender, Star-Bulletin
A Portuguese oven from the 1900’s was also discovered
at the Hale O Papa heiau site.


Ross Cordy, branch chief of archaeology at the State Historic Preservation Office, said planners put the cart before the horse 3 by not completing archaeological surveys before design and construction of the freeway began.


With surveys in hand, officials could have determined if certain sites needed to be preserved thereby avoiding the costly physical realignments done at the Kukuiokane, Hale O Papa and Luakini heiau sites along the 16.1-mile freeway, he said.


Cordy added historic preservation wasn’t integrated into the project until after August 1987, when the Federal Highways Administration, state Transportation Department, State Historic Preservation Office, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs signed a memorandum of agreement on archaeological resources on the H-3 project.


Even then, archaeologists and cultural monitors often worked literally a few steps ahead of the bulldozers, he said.


“One of the things that we came out of this thing with is that we’re not going to approve any project until we have an actual survey report in our hands,” Cordy said.


“We need the report to be acceptable, and the public has got to comment on that. And in this case, we still don’t have the survey reports,” he said.


Leeward Community College instructor Barry Nakamura believes the remaining H-3 reports won’t be forthcoming any time soon. After more than 30 years in the making, those involved in creating H-3 only want to “wash their hands” of the controversial project, he said.


“The public has a right to know what they spent their money for,” Nakamura said. “And I have a feeling the public’s never gonna know.”


61,000 artifacts found in valley


The bulk of the 61,000 artifacts and samples collected in Halawa Valley during the freeway’s construction were small basalt stone flakes, cuttings from stone tools used by ancient Hawaiians.


Also found were food remains — such as shells and animal bones — as well as two stone bowls whose origin remains in dispute.


Most of the artifacts are broken and not of display quality. They will be kept at Bishop Museum, which is the official state museum, until officials decide what to do with them.


Late man’s pleas for family bones went unheeded


By Alan Matsuoka




To some, an incident during the construction of the H-3 Freeway shows the wrath the gods have for those who tamper with the dead.<


The story was told by Hekili Pai’aina, a spokesman for the Halawa Coalition, and published in a 1994 Star-Bulletin article. It continues to circulate in the native Hawaiian community.<


Pai’aina said the state Transportation Department in 1990 desecrated ancient Hawaiian remains that were found when bulldozing the Kukuiokane heiau in Kaneohe, which was in the freeway’s path.


The area’s part-Hawaiian caretaker, Daniel Yanagida, told officials they were his ancestors, and that he had been instructed by his grandmother to watch over them. Disturbing burials will anger spirits, who will exact revenge if the bones are not re-interned quickly, according to Hawaiian cultural experts.


But Pai’aina said neither Bishop Museum nor the Office of Hawaiian Affairs would release the bones to Yanagida without written proof.


“Daniel protested and said that Hawaiians did not keep written records of deaths two centuries ago,” he said. “All the knowledge about these burials was passed down through the family through oral history.”


Yanagida went to the H-3 construction site every day to ask archeologists to return the bones, but was refused, according to the story.


Then — despite passing a recent physical — he died three months later at the age of 43.


Yanagida’s family today refuses to publicly talk about the freeway and its impact on their lives.


“I don’t care for the freeway at all,” was all that his widow, Theresa, chose to say.



Construction cost 2 lives, several injuries


By Gordon Y. K. Pang




Like other projects of its kind, the H-3 Freeway has had a human toll.
Two people died and several others were injured over the past seven years while building the Halawa portion of the project.


Lawsuits have resulted from three major incidents:


  • June 5, 1990: Carpenter foreman Orlindo Domingo, 52, was killed and three other workers injured when a 47-ton bridge girder slipped off its supports and fell 50 feet.


  • Jan. 26, 1995: Carpenter Steven J. Ouderkirk, 28, was killed when a concrete retaining wall collapsed on him in a muddy Halawa stream bed.


In both cases, the state Occupational Safety and Health Division placed no blame on the state or its contractors.


Attorney Wayne Kekina, whose firm is representing victims and their families in all three cases, said both were settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount, with insurance companies for engineers making the payments.


The state in the first case fined Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. $2,450 for indirect safety violations. The fine was reduced to $980 after the company appealed.


In the second case, the state fined Kiewit Pacific Co. $17,500 for general unsafe working conditions — failing to protect employees from cave-ins, and loose rock or soil. Kiewit attorneys argued a reduction to $5,000.


  • July 27, 1996: Four construction workers were injured when a freeway section with four girders collapsed, bringing down a wooden platform where they were standing.


Kekina said the case, in which Kiewit supervisors and the project’s architectural engineers were sued, is expected to go to trial next year. The Occupational Safety division found no safety standard violations by the state or its contractors.


In addition to the three cases, at least eight other incidents led to minor injuries.


State Transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said the H-3’s contractors should be commended because there were not more injuries. “We regret any injuries that occurred but feel it was a very safe job,” she said.


She noted that excavation of both the Pali and Likelike highway tunnels resulted in a number of deaths, while the H-3 tunnels were built “without any major accidents.”


Kekina said injuries can be expected to occur given the magnitude of the project. But, he added, “one death is too many. We just have to make sure that each time, people are accountable and attempt to prevent these kinds of accidents from happening again.”


Read Day One of this report