Bellows closure is criticized


POSTED: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

There are going to be at least 100 unhappy campers who had hoped to spend one of the next two weekends on the beaches at Bellows Air Force Station.

;[Preview]    Bellows Beach Closure Concerns Waimanalo Residents

The Marine Corps is shutting down the popular recreation spot for the month of June for cleanup.

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The Marine Corps, which owns the 1,049-acre training ground and the pristine beaches, closed it Monday to all visitors on weekends throughout the month of June due to “;persistent unsafe and environmentally destructive activities”; taking place there.

Col. Robert Rice, commander of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which is responsible for Marine facilities on Oahu, said he hopes to reopen the beaches and campsites by the July 4 holiday weekend after taking specific actions to ensure a “;a safe environment.”;

However, some residents like Wilson Kekoa Ho, chairman of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board, described Rice's actions as a “;drastic measure”; since the city Parks Department said it was working on the problems.

Noting that Bellows is the most popular beach campsite in the state, Ho asked, “;Where will the people go?”;

June and July are the most popular months for camping since they coincide with summer vacation, Ho said.

Ho said the Marines have never brought up the problems at Bellows at Waimanalo board meetings.

Control of Bellows was transferred from the Air Force to the Navy on Sept. 22, 1999. The beaches and camping areas are open to the public on weekends and holidays under a joint agreement between the city and the Marine Corps. Under that agreement, the Marine Corps is required to give the city 45 days' notice before closing the beaches on weekends. No public access is allowed during the week.

The city issues only 50 camping permits each weekend for Bellows, with a limit of 10 people per permit. The permits are issued two weeks ahead.

Permits already have been issued for this weekend and next. Despite Rice's order to close Bellows to the public, the city doesn't plan at this point to stop issuing camping permits for the remainder of June since the military might change its mind, a city spokesman said.

Rice said the Marine Corps has been working since November to curb the problems caused by people who have used the site as an illegal dumpsite.

The Marines say the matter reached crisis proportion on the Memorial Day weekend when a federal conservation officer issued four citations for illegal dumping of construction debris into the stream.

“;Weekend users are illegally dumping old car batteries and rusty 55-gallon drums containing unknown materials, leaving fire rings on the beach, damaging trees, not properly disposing of trash and driving through streams and on the beach,”; Rice said.

In the next four weeks, the Marines will:

» Erecting more traffic barriers to prevent vehicles from driving onto the beach.

» Posting signs designating campsites and camping regulations.

» Building more fire pits where beachgoers can dump hot coals.

» Increasing the number of officers patrolling the beaches and campsites.