Bones of Contention
Nearly 20 years ago, the State Historic Preservation Division was created to guard Hawaii's history in the face of rapid development. Today, Hawaiian activists, archaeologists and even developers say it's not doing its job.
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What’s Happening?SHPD administrator Melanie Chinen has an answer for every criticism leveled at her office. It’s no surprise, considering the numerous news reports over the past year documenting the agency’s troubles, including one editorial calling for her replacement.
There are several valid reasons 22 people have resigned since she took over the division, Chinen insists. When she became administrator, she instituted major policy changes—from requiring workers to account for time off to setting quotas on the number of archaeological reviews they needed to complete—and some employees were stuck in their old ways, she says. Other staff members, including some of her own hires, could not handle the stress of dealing with such a thankless job—the constant calls from impatient developers, the emotional pleas from Hawaiian families, even physical threats from the public.
“It takes a toll,” Chinen says. “There’s a high burnout. We believe that even given staff working to the highest level, there’s going to be a need for additional resources.”
Like every other state agency, SHPD has to beg the governor and the Legislature for funding. The division receives $1 million from the state—less money than any other division in the Department of Land and Natural Resources—and nearly $500,000 from the federal government. Most of the total $1.5 million goes to SHPD’s 24 positions.