Army’s Makua actions show lack of care for culture, public safety
Editor's note: The Army discovered a 250-pound, World War II-era bomb this month near the gate to the live-fire training ground in Makua Military Reservation and on Nov. 17 denied access to Hawaiian groups that were scheduled to observe the first day of the Makahiki cultural celebration.
In the Star-Bulletin's article last Sunday covering the protest at Makua, Dennis Drake, director of public affairs for the Army, was quoted as saying, "It's the goal of the Army to restore public access for the cultural events as fast as possible, within the guidelines imposed upon us." He further stated that troops placed sandbags around the recently uncovered ordnance that shortened the damage arc to within the fence line.
If simply placing sand bags around the bomb could reduce the damage arc from half a mile offshore to "within the fence line," then simply placing one or several more rings of sand bags around the bomb should have reduced the damage arc sufficiently to allow Makahiki ceremonies to continue. After all, two of the three sites to be accessed lay a little more than a football field from that fence. At the third site we could've set up a lele, as we did at last year's closing Makahiki ceremonies.
The Army's position further ignores the fact that the bomb has been lying there for more than 50 years and during that time, hundreds of trucks have traveled over it. Hundreds of people have walked over it. Hundreds or thousands of explosions have vibrated the valley around it. In addition, at least three -- and as many as 100 -- fires have burned over it.
One of our major challenges in working with the Army is that it always presents itself as a moving target. First the bomb was located further up in the valley and the damage arc was 2,000 meters. Then it was lower in the valley and the damage arc was 1,800 meters. We requested clarifying information such as a safety manual, so that we could reconcile some of the conflicting safety information with information we had received regarding damage arc, for bombs found in years past. We have not received any of that information.
One source of confusion is that one of the conditions of the 2001 Settlement Agreement is that the Army would promptly clear ordnance up to 1,000 meters into the valley from Farrington Highway. At that time, the Army said that would protect the public from a 1,000-pound bomb self-detonating. Why then is the damage arc for a much smaller bomb allegedly much more than 1,000 meters?
The Army has further stated that it needs to comply with federal laws protecting cultural sites. The National Historic Preservation Act, however, allows for immediate action to be taken in times of an emergency or threat to public safety. In the past, with other bombs found at Makua, the Army immediately consulted with Hawaiian groups to remove threats quickly. With others I have stood next to ordnance as large as 1,000-pound bombs as part of the consultation process.
If the Army were sincere about providing cultural access and believed the bomb posed an imminent threat, it could have had an immediate on-site consultation using the NHPA exemption and, in a much more timely manner, scheduled the detonation of the bomb and other ordnance, resulting in the restoration of public safety and Makahiki ceremonies occurring on schedule.
Instead, in its actions, the Army has demonstrated that public relations are a higher priority than public safety and Hawaiian cultural and religious access. In this case, the Army had an opportunity to do what is right and instead blew it; no pun intended.
William J. Aila Jr. of Waianae is a member of Hui Malama O Makua.