Will Hanalei become the next Laguna Beach?

That’s what many Kauai residents fear a possible development along the Hanalei River could turn out to be. Multimillion-dollar luxury homes and hotel cottages on the north Kauai “hills,” or ridge, would overlook the bay and the gem of white sand beach that’s become famous throughout the world.

Many residents worry about the environmental and visual impact these “McMansions,” as they’ve been dubbed, could have on the location. Right now, it’s one of the few places in Hawaii that hasn’t been touched by development. Waikiki, on the other hand, would be an example from the opposite end of the spectrum. High rises and hotels have transformed this community into a hub for tourism, which is – of course – great for Hawaii’s economy. But with the increased traffic, crime and litter, this community has become yet another victim of development.

There’s also a concern with the Hanalei project’s cultural impact. Hanalei is considered one of many “sacred places” in Hawaii. There’s an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and heiau (place of worship) here. Hawaiians built fishponds through a community effort. The loko ia, as it’s called in Hawaiian, were used to fatten and store fish for food. They were oftentimes a source of kapu (forbidden) fish during the spawning season. In other words, fishponds had a huge and vested significance for Hawaiians.

Developers have said, however, that they plan to restore the fishpond, but there’s still a question of what will happen after. With so many people coming and going through these hotel units, there’s no way to monitor these cultural sites. Litter, graffiti and other forms of defamation could potentially diminish their historic value.

Should Hanalei development get pushed through, the main compromise here would be to develop away from such cultural sites and exclude it from the blueprints. But if that’s not possible, then educating visitors would be key to preservation. That’s why developers need to make the extra effort, or I’m afraid that these places will fall victim to development as well.


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