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Preserving Molokai

Residents participate in Historic Preservation Plan update

“Keeping Molokai Molokai” has been a widely-shared sentiment for both residents and visitors. For many, that effort includes preserving the island’s approximately 100 sites named on the National or State Register of Historic Places. Molokai is rich with historic places –including archaeological sites, fishponds, heiau and the Kalaupapa settlement –that fuel the people of Molokai both physically and spiritually. But many consider the entire island a “historic place” — an idea residents raised at a meeting held last week by the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) as part of the process to update State Historic Preservation Plan.

“How can we get the whole island of Molokai on the registry?” Kanoho Helm, president of I Aloha Molokai (IAM), asked SHPD representatives.

The National Register of Historic Places, created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, requires federal agencies to evaluate the impact of all developments on historic properties before approving any projects. According to Section 213 of the Act, this review process does not prevent any site from demolition or alteration, but is designed to “avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects [to historic properties].”

SHPD, under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, is currently updating the State Historic Preservation Plan that would be effective for the next five years. They are visiting each of the islands to gather community input.

“Historic sites are tangible evidence of a colorful, rich heritage and provide the community with a sense of continuity,” said Pua Aiu, administrator for the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) in a DLNR news release. “Community input is essential to help set priorities for the State Historic Preservation Plan.”

Discussion topics included priorities for historic preservation in Hawaii, assessment of existing resources and recommendations for the future.

One of the main concerns raised at the meeting was that the current list of historic sites on Molokai was “insufficient,” in the words of Walter Ritte, community activist and candidate for at-large seat for Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He agreed with Helm, suggested instead that the entire island be dubbed a historical site.

“All of Molokai is a historic island, so all Molokai should be preserved,” said one community member. “We live a poor, simple life that we enjoy. It needs to be left alone.”

Other attendees suggested protection of the reef, natural springs, burial grounds, lava tubes and the aina.

“These sacred sites hold precious information, and if bulldozed, can be lost forever,” said Kathie Flinn, a member of IAM.

By the end of the meeting, many community members still had unanswered questions and concerns. Faith Sereno Rex, president of SMS Consulting, which has been contracted by the DLNR to complete the plan, concluded that more information needed to be made available to the community. Suggestions included education through community meetings, providing online access to the database and hiring of a community relations officer.

“We hope to re-energize the community to be more active in historic preservation activities,” said Rex in a statement. “When people are involved in the planning process they are more likely to stay active through implementation.”

A draft of the plan will be made available online in August, according to Rex. Until then, community members are encouraged to submit suggestions to historicpreservation@smshawaii.com or call toll free at 1-877-535-5767.

For more information, visit hawaiihistoricpreservation.com.