House to vote on controversial archaeological survey bill tomorrow

Tomorrow, the Hawaii state House of Representatives will vote on Senate Bill 1171, which will allow construction to begin on development projects without a full archaeological inventory survey (AIS). It's a controversial bill that has infuriated many Hawaiian groups.

Currently, a completed AIS is supposed to be done before construction begins if it is believed that the project will impact historic sites.  However, this bill “will allow for phased archaeological inventory surveys for long projects,” explained UH associate anthropology professor Ty Tengan at the Society of American Archaeology conference this past weekend. “It’s in response to the rail project, which was stopped because they wanted to go ahead and build it and not do all the proper studies beforehand," he said.

Tengan is referring to the Kaleikini vs. Yoshioka case last year, when Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the city and county of Honolulu needed to complete an AIS of the entire 20-mile rail route, instead of in four phases as the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) originally approved.

While SHPD is tasked with protecting Hawaii’s cultural and historical sites, it has not required archaeological inventory surveys in the past before developments began, though it was evident that burial discoveries were possible, including at Ward Village Shops and Kawaiahao Church’s Multi-Purpose center.

Many community leaders have voiced their opposition to this bill including cultural practitioner Paulette Kaanohi Kaleikini, Society for Hawaiian Archaeology president Kekuewa Kikiloi and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  The argument is that phased archaeological surveys will leave fewer options for developers and for Hawaiians should burial discoveries be found later on in the development process after the majority of the project is already complete. OHA is asking the public to contact their House representative to vote no on this bill.

Supporters of the bill, on the other hand, express that the change is to streamline state and federal laws. While the state law requires an AIS to be completed beforehand, “federal law under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) explicitly permits the phased identification and evaluation of historic properties,” as was also noted by the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling.

Update 4/9/13 – House passed the bill, and transmitted to Senate.