Wednesday, December 29, 1999

A noisy, smoky
New Year’s looms

Bullet The issue: New Year's Eve may see the most extensive use of fireworks in Oahu history

Bullet Our view: Fireworks ruin the holiday for many residents.

MANY Oahu residents dread New Year's Eve because of fireworks. Thanks to legislators' refusal to act, this New Year's threatens to outdo all previous ones in noise, smoke and general nuisance value.

People with respiratory problems are looking for relief. The American Lung Association has a program to find facilities where people can escape the smoke, such as movie theaters, malls and other air-conditioned spaces.

A limited number of discounted rooms were made available at the Ilikai and booked almost immediately. Signature Theatres' complex at Dole Cannery and the Wallace Theatres' Restaurant Row complex will stay open for their regular midnight showings, providing havens for those with breathing problems.

In addition, beds were available at Camp Timberline above Makakilo and camp sites at the Malaekahana state recreation area in Kahuku.

The toll of injuries from fireworks use has already begun with an eye injury to a 14-year-old Waimanalo girl. It is only too likely that others will follow. Similarly, damage from fires caused by fireworks has started with a blaze at a home in Pearl City.

Despite Governor Cayetano's call for a fireworks ban after last year's New Year's Eve debacle, state and city legislators did nothing.

Sales -- legal and illegal -- of fireworks appear to be breaking records. Evidently the advent of the new millennium is spurring interest in fireworks to new heights.

To their credit, police have made arrests of vendors of illegal fireworks, but they have barely scratched the surface of the problem.

That doesn't mean most Oahu residents are setting off fireworks or approve of them. A poll published in the Star-Bulletin this month found 65 percent of respondents stating that they did not intend to use fireworks on New Year's Eve; 35 percent did. Fifty-five percent favored a total ban on fireworks except for religious or cultural purposes; 41 percent were opposed and 5 percent were undecided.

EVEN if only 35 percent of the population use fireworks, they can make life miserable for the rest. That doesn't seem to bother them, and the politicians are too intimidated to act.

It's not clear what it would take to get action -- how many fingers blown off and people blinded, how many people gasping for breath, even dying, how many houses burned down, how many victims of traffic accidents caused by poor visibility, how many pets reduced to nervous wrecks.

Unfortunately we haven't reached that point yet.

Approval of Okinawa
heliport relocation

Bullet The issue: Relocation of a Marine Corps heliport on Okinawa is being sought to respond to residents' complaints.

Bullet Our view: Approval by the mayor of the community that is the proposed new site moves the project closer to implementation.

RELOCATION of a Marine Corps heliport on Okinawa has moved a step closer with the acceptance of the plan by the mayor of the community that is the proposed site. Japan's national government endorsed the plan following its acceptance by Mayor Tateo Kishimoto of Nago.

However, there are complications. The plan as announced by Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine includes a 15-year limit on the U.S. Marines' use of the new facility and requires that it be open to commercial as well as military use.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's cabinet accepted the relocation plan and it will be discussed by the chief of the Defense Agency with U.S. officials in Washington next month. However, the Obuchi administration has reservations about the proposed time limit and may not raise the issue with the United States.

The Tokyo government has proposed an extensive program of economic development aid to sweeten the package for Nago residents, but some are adamantly opposed to the heliport despite the aid offers. The mayor approved the move over their protests.

The relocation is called for under a 1996 agreement to move the Marines out of the current base at Futemma, 25 miles southwest of Nago, where there have been complaints from the community about noise, potential danger to residents and crimes by U.S. military personnel. About 3,700 personnel and 71 aircraft, mostly helicopters, are stationed at Futemma.

Some Okinawans resent the large U.S. military presence on their island -- two-thirds of the 50,000 throughout Japan -- but the national government considers that presence in the national interest and shows no sign of backing off. The move from Futemma is an attempt to mollify opponents through compromise. The previous governor of Okinawa was an outspoken foe of the U.S. military presence but his defeat in a bid for re-election was a blow to the opposition.

Someday the need for American forces in Japan will end and they will leave Okinawa. But for now both Tokyo and Washington want those forces to remain, because the security situation in Northeast Asia remains unstable.

Okinawa's current leaders seem to realize they must make the 1996 compromise work, that a total withdrawal of U.S. troops at this time is not attainable.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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