HAWAII’S KAHOOLAWE ISLAND TO CHANGE HANDS IN NOVEMBER

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HAWAII’S KAHOOLAWE ISLAND TO CHANGE HANDS IN NOVEMBER

By Ilima Loomis

WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, Sept. 29) - Federal cleanup goals have been reached, but the island of Kahoolawe – a former U.S. Military bombing target - is still far from being completely cleared of ordnance as the state prepares to take over management of the uninhabited
island in November.

After six years of a $280 million contract to clear the island of hazardous ordnance, and almost 65 years of military control, the transition from federal to state hands on Nov. 11 will be the next milestone in Kahoolawe's history.

Funding could be an issue in continuing restoration and cultural activities on the island, and liability is potentially a big concern for the state. And there's always the question of what to do about the remaining unexploded bombs, shells and incendiary devices left behind on
the island used as a naval bombing range for 50 years.

But Stanton Enomoto, acting executive director of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, said the state is preparing to take back the island.

KIRC has about $30 million in federal funds in trust to manage the island, and Enomoto said the agency will also pursue grants, donations and state allocations to continue its operations.

"We're trying to expand our horizons," he said, adding that he believed restoration, cultural and educational activities would continue.

The U.S. Navy, which has been overseeing cleanup operations, is also preparing for the hand-over, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell.

She said the Navy will remain on the island for 120 more days of work after the transition.

Currently 19,709 acres of the 28,800-acre island have been at least surface-cleared of ordinance, with 2,522 acres cleared to a subsurface level.

Campbell said those figures exceed the goals to which the the Navy committed when it set up a contract for the cleanup in 1997. She said there will be no more of the comprehensive clearance - in which ordnance, shrapnel and all other metal are removed.

Instead, the Navy will spend the remainder of its time on the island conducting quality checks and returning to already cleared areas that need more work. In addition, they'll do some "risk reduction" in places that haven't been cleared, leaving scrap metal but
removing any unexploded ordnance that may be found. More than 8 million pounds of metal and 11,000 tires have already been removed from the island, Campbell said.

But what to do with ordnance discovered after the Navy leaves, and who will be responsible for dealing with it, is still under discussion, said Enomoto. He said he felt an agreement would be reached before the Nov. 11 transfer.

Congress authorized up to $400 million to pay for the cleanup, and set up the 10-year deadline in October 1993. The final allocation is included in a pending defense appropriations bill.

Enomoto said that in addition to stretching leftover federal funds to cover its operations costs, KIRC had already succeeded in getting a $400,000 state Department of Health watershed restoration grant to pay for two years of reforestation efforts.

He said KIRC planned to keep activities on the island to a minimum while the Navy's contractor, the Parsons-UXB Joint Venture, was finishing up its work. Access would be limited to a few groups with a history of visiting the island, such as the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana.

"Once the Navy leaves the island, that's where the real transition begins for us," he said.

Access and activities would gradually increase through 2004 while KIRC staff sets up their personnel, equipment, communications systems, procedures and other operations.

There will be some changes. While the Navy used helicopters to move workers to Kahoolawe, Enomoto said, "Probably our primary mode of access to the island is going to be by sea."

In the coming years, the commission hopes to install a small pier in one of the bays on the island's northwest coastline, eliminating the need for staff and visitors to wade through surf in order to land on Kahoolawe.

"That's probably one of the key infrastructure items that will need to be put in in the near future," he said.

With hazards ranging from live explosives to towering cliffs to unpredictable ocean currents, liability exposure is also a concern.

Enomoto said the biggest thing KIRC can do to minimize liability is to maximize safety. That will probably mean limiting activities on the island to cleared areas, and providing escorts and guides to keep people safe - similar to the procedures that the Navy has required for
visitors while the island was under its control.

"It's not a place where people can come to, and go where they want to go, and run around on their own," he said.

Dealing with the leftover ordnance remains an issue, and KIRC has taken the position that the Navy and the federal government are ultimately responsible for cleaning it up.

A 1994 Memorandum of Understanding between the Navy and the Sate of Hawaii stated that the surface of Kahoolawe would be 100 percent cleared of ordinance and that 30 percent of the island would be cleared to the subsurface level.

Enomoto said he understood there were no immediate plans to continue the federal cleanup efforts, but he didn't think the state government would step in.

"I don't believe the state sees it as its responsibility to remove the ordinance. It's a federal responsibility," he said. "I think the remainder of the island will need to be cleaned another day. We're continuing to pursue that remedy, it's just going to be a
longer-term remedy than we've experienced over the past 10 years."

September 30, 2003

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com

 

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