Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Cayetano to
visit Niihau
on Friday

The governor wants to see
for himself whether it's OK
for the Navy to put a
missile site on the island

By Anthony Sommer


Gov. Ben Cayetano will tour "the Forbidden Island" of Niihau with brothers Keith and Bruce Robinson on Friday for a look at the sites the U.S. Navy wants to use for missile testing.

The Robinsons, whose family has owned Niihau for more than 130 years, are in a standoff with the state Historic Preservation Division over the state's demands for a complete archaeological study before the Navy can use the island.

The Robinsons insist there are no archaeological sites near the proposed missile facilities. They are afraid a complete study of the island could lead to demands from militant native Hawaiians to be allowed to visit Niihau.

"We'll go ahead (with letting the Navy use the island) but not with ethnographic studies that might open us to invasion from people who want to create problems," Robinson said.

Except for a group of about 200 Hawaiians whose families have lived on the island for many generations and who work for the Robinsons, Niihau has been closed to outsiders for more than a century.

The island has been used primarily for ranching. A limited area is used for guided hunting trips operated by the Robinson family.

Keith Robinson said Monday the governor has agreed to to see for himself whether there are any cultural artifacts near the missile sites.

"Either he's going to find the Lost Cities of Gold or a barren, dusty plain," Robinson said, adding he expects the governor to come back "thirsty, sunburned and dirty."

Three years ago, the Robinsons offered the use of Niihau as part of the upcoming tests of the $3 billion Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system. Plans called for missile launchers, an airfield and instrument sites on the island.

The Navy gave the program -- designed to protect friendly fleets, ground troops and civilians from rocket attack -- the green light last month.

Target missiles simulating hostile rockets would be fired from Niihau at Navy cruisers on the Pacific Missile Range Facility's training area. The Navy would attempt to shoot down the incoming rockets with their new anti-missile missiles.

The final version of the environmental impact study conducted for the missile tests failed to resolve the dispute between state officials and the Robinson family. It gives the Historic Preservation Division the right to insist on studies and the Robinsons the right to refuse them, which in effect would bar the Navy from the island.

The Navy has said it can conduct the testing using floating launch platforms and rockets from aircraft, but the use of an island would be more reliable.

If Niihau becomes available, the Navy plans to pay the Robinsons to take technicians and equipment to the island and to hire Niihau residents to help build and maintain the sites.

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