HomeNative HawaiianProposed black sand beach resort divides the community

Proposed black sand beach resort divides the community

A proposed resort transformation on one of the only 20 black sand beaches in the world is dividing communities in Hawai’i.

For centuries, the Big Island’s Punaluu Black Sand Beach has been a culturally significant area. Native Hawaiians fear that the addition of condos, tennis courts, and a conference center could threaten its sacredness.

Naalehu resident Dominic Rioli said, “I believe that developing this area would desecrate a sacred coastline, ecologically and culturally.” He added, “Additionally, I believe that further entrenching the region and Malden in a tourism based economy, as this development proposes to do, undermine cultural and ecological health.”

Back in 2020, Eva Liu acquired the 434 acres along the southeastern coast of Hawaii Island in the Tau district. Then, Black Sand Beach LLC formed the “low-density 225-unit project” from the acquisition, USA Today reports.

In the past, other developers have tried to restore the area. From the 1960s till 2006, it had been passed around until reaching a “terrible shape of disrepair.” But, “disturbed by the lack of local initiative to revive the area, Eva felt an undeniable duty to intervene,” Black Sand Bach LLC said.

The project would restore the pre-existing condos, restaurant, golf course, tennis courts, boat ramp, and education center. It would also add a new wellness center, two-and-a-half-story condominiums, a marketplace, cabins, shops, and parking facilities.

With these new additions, some community members are excited by the possibilities. Opening up job and housing opportunities, resident Demetrius K. Oliveira expressed his optimism in the Punaluu Village.

“I firmly believe that this project holds the potential to rejuvenate Kau, offering invaluable opportunities for its residents and fostering much-needed employment,” Oliveira wrote to SF Gate. “The envisioned resort development serves as a beacon of hope, promising substantial ob creation and economic revitalization. Beyond immediate employment benefits, it pledges to pave a brighter path for younger generations, enabling them to flourish in their hometown.”

Since purchasing the land, Black Sand Beach LLC said that they have invested $1 million in the restoration of the area. This includes garbage pick up and cleaning up the infrastructure remains from previous projects.

“It’s an area that we all love and treasure. Punaluu is not an undeveloped green field site but a living active community that needs constant maintenance and care,” Black Sand Beach LLC consultant and representative Daryn Arai said. “We take our role as the stewards seriously by providing water, sewer, road system maintenance, and property management services to the Punaluu community.”

However, some Native Hawaiians remain opposed.

On March 7 community member shared their thoughts on the development at a public hearing. Some Native Hawaiians fear losing an area that has strong familial ties, like Nohealani Kaawa.

“On a personal level, for me, our ancestors are buried there at Punaluu,” Kaawa told USA Today. “No matter where they build their development plan, they’re going to uproot the bones of our ancestors and that’s the biggest disrespect you can do for the kanaka maoli of Hawaii (Native Hawaiian people) is to expose their iwi kupuna (ancestral remains) to the sun.”

Others voiced their concern over environmental factors. The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity has since taken legal action. Filing a legal intervention, the nonprofit is concerned about issues like the area’s over-tourism and the endangered sea turtles that call the beach home.

“Developers are relying on an outdated environmental analysis and the permit application they filed with the county fails to consider harms to the local community,” the nonprofit said in a news release. “Increased traffic and a surge in visitors will compromise the residents’ quality of life and exacerbate existing challenges faces by Punaluu’s fragile ecosystem.”

As the debate surrounding the Punaluu Village continues, another public hearing is scheduled for Monday.

“It’s been really sad to watch,” Kaawa said. “It’s not just the community they’re dividing, it’s families.”

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