MAKAWAO - Makawao Veterans Cemetery may reach capacity for burials in one and a half to two years, so plans are being laid for the purchase of a 10-acre adjoining property.
The state Legislature approved $5 million last session for the planning, purchase and development of the cemetery expansion, said Ronald P. Han Jr., the director of Hawaii State Veterans Services, in a phone interview last week from Oahu.
"Makawao is my priority right now," said Han, whose agency oversees eight veterans cemeteries on the six major Hawaiian Islands, including ones on Molokai and Lanai. "I want to make sure this one gets moving with a little more momentum because of the capacity issues."
The American flag flies at half-mast as Lahaina resident George Perez and his girlfriend, Alicia Sanchez, watch the Memorial Day service at Makawao Veterans Cemetery in May. Plans are under way to purchase an adjacent 10-acre parcel to expand the cemetery.
The Maui News file photo
With World War II veterans now reaching their 80s and 90s, Han said he's concerned and wants to make sure that they go to their final resting place with honor and dignity.
"There is a growth . . . and we will try to anticipate this growth," he said. "We are pushing really hard . . . so we can take care of our Maui veterans."
Han said that "it's hard to say" when the the 7-acre Makawao cemetery will reach capacity, but it could be one and a half to two years for in-ground burials.
"That's a concern for us," he said.
With the acquisition of the 10-acre addition, the cemetery could be set for five to 10 years down the road, he said.
Efforts to purchase the property are at the beginning stages with the state making initial contact with the landowner, whom Han described as a "consortium."
County real property tax records show Paul Turner as the owner of the surrounding parcel, which is 129.7 acres.
Turner said last week that he is working with Jordan Santos, whose father is buried in the cemetery, on a "complex subdivision." Both he and Santos want the cemetery addition to happen.
When asked if he believed the subdivision could be completed before the cemetery reaches capacity, Turner replied: "I hope so. It continually gets delayed."
Attempts to reach Santos by phone and fax were unsuccessful.
Paul Laub, president of the Maui County Veterans Council, is concerned about whether the acquisition of the additional parcel can be done in time. He said that the state cannot purchase the property until the Turner-Santos transaction is completed.
"Our problem is just actually getting the piece transferred," said Laub, who has been briefed by state officials on the cemetery plans. "The state has done everything. It's not the money; it's sitting there and ready."
Han was not sure if the acquisition would occur this or next year.
"Nobody can tell me how long it will take, but we're working as fast as we can to see this thing through," he said. "This is something we must do."
As of 2010, there were 2,381 grave-site burials and 208 in columbarium/niches for a total of 2,589, said Han, who has been on the job for a little more than a month.
Current servicemen and servicewomen and veterans and their spouses and dependent children up to a certain age may be buried at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, located on a bend on Baldwin Avenue. Veterans who have been dishonorably discharged are not eligible for burial in the cemetery, Han said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.