ON HAWAII’S ‘TARGET ISLAND,’ A FEELING OF LIBERATION

ON HAWAII’S ‘TARGET ISLAND,’ A FEELING OF LIBERATION

By Ilima Loomis,

WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, April 20) - With the last barge of scrap metal pulled away from the loading dock and the last helicopter of Navy officers lifted out of base camp, the new managers of Kahoolawe were taking a hard look at the job ahead of them.

The island was formally transferred from federal to state control in November, but it was on Good Friday, April 9, that the U.S. Navy completed its departure from the one-time Target Island.

After almost a decade of work that revolved around the Navy's effort to clean the island of scrap and unexploded ordnance, Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission Executive Director Stanton Enomoto said leaving that behind and starting the work of total responsibility was a shock that left him with mixed feelings.

"There's the excitement, there's the anxieties, there's the opportunities that lie ahead," he said in an interview last week.

But the overwhelming feeling as he saw off the last Navy helicopter and turned with his colleagues to the abruptly vacant base camp was one of liberation.

"Even though we were the managers of the island, it never quite felt like it was ours," he said. "A tremendous weight was lifted from a lot of people's shoulders."

But those shoulders now have a big job to carry. From providing electricity and hot water to base camp to providing visitors safe access to an island still hiding unexploded ammunition and torpedoes, all aspects of life on Kahoolawe are the responsibility of KIRC.

For now, money is the top priority.

KIRC can continue to draw down a $35 million trust fund, federal money that was allocated to the state agency during the cleanup project. It will provide an important cushion as the agency makes the transition to self-sufficiency.

But with no new federal monies going into that fund, and no state funds anticipated, the agency will need to look for new sources of cash or face dramatic cutbacks in the future.

Enomoto said he plans to keep the agency's payroll at about 25 people, possibly restructuring staff to cover KIRC's new roles and responsibilities.

"I'm not looking at downsizing," he said. "But I'm very hesitant to expand the staff at this point."

He said KIRC could decide to hire a grant writer to work full time at securing grants, donations and partnerships with other agencies to keep programs running.

With money tight, KIRC will have to balance the costly use of helicopters with less time-efficient but more affordable boat travel as the way to access the island, he added.

Everyday operations at Kahoolawe base camp will be managed by Parsons, the same contractor used by the Navy to run the island as part of the Parsons-UXB Joint Venture. Enomoto said he was pleased to have continuity in the daily management of power, water, food and basic infrastructure on the island.

"We wanted to have a turnkey kind of thing, that we'd be able to function the second the Navy left," he said. "We've been very happy with that."

A number of KIRC programs like plantings, fish monitoring and the restoration of cultural sites have been ongoing, including a reforestation project funded by a $400,000 state Department of Health grant, he said.

"Our fieldwork has been continuing as it has always been," he said.

Access to the island is still limited for now to allow KIRC to set up facilities to receive larger groups, he said. For the interim, people who want to visit the island can sign up as volunteers for KIRC work trips or contact the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana, which is allowed monthly access.

Liability will be a major concern on the island that in addition to unexploded ordnance has harsh weather conditions and rugged terrain. KIRC is installing warning signs at bays and coves around Kahoolawe, and state law will give the state some liability protection once those signs are in place, Enomoto said.

KIRC is also working with Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officers for help in patrolling the area and reaching out to Maui's fishing and boating community to discuss safety issues and discourage illegal landings.

Enomoto said there are cases of people fishing near Kahoolawe illegally or landing and trespassing on the island. Trespassers are a liability risk, and can also cause damage to native plants and cultural sites.

"It occurs, and that is of concern to the commission," he said.

An agreement reached last year with the Navy is still in effect, to have a Navy squad on-call to dispose of ordnance that continues to surface as the island erodes. The bomb squad will be available immediately for emergency cases and on a deferred basis for nonemergencies.

According to the Navy, almost 85 percent of Kahoolawe's 26,158 acres was cleaned of ordnance and scrap metal at the surface level. About 2,650 acres have been cleared of subsurface ordnance, allowing for more intensive human activity.

The Navy's contractor has removed 12.9 million pounds of scrap from the island since 1997.

But some groups have not been satisfied with the cleanup, saying the Navy should have cleaned 100 percent of the island and should make it "reasonably safe for human habitation," as the original presidential executive order taking over the island for military use mandated.

Use of the island as a military bombing target began early in 1941 and continued after the end of World War II, with President Eisenhower issuing the executive order on Feb. 20, 1953, taking over the island for use by the Navy.

Hawaiian groups began protesting the bombing in the late 1970s and eventually won a federal court order that required an archaeological survey of the island. The survey resulted in Kahoolawe being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Bombing of the island was stopped in 1990 under an order from President George H.W. Bush, and three years later, Congress ordered Kahoolawe to be cleaned and returned to the state of Hawaii, authorizing $400 million for a 10-year cleanup project. Work began in 1998 and the island was formally returned to Hawaii on Nov. 11 last year.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for the KIRC staff and commissioners now will be a change in thinking as they make the transition to actively managing the island.

"This coming year is going to be a growing year, a learning year for us," Enomoto said. "There are so many new things we're going to take on."

April 21, 2004

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com

 

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