Friday, June 15, 2001

Vieques cease-fire
could fuel debate
over Makua shelling

The issue: President Bush has
promised to end military shelling
of a Puerto Rican island.

PRESIDENT Bush's decision to halt military exercises and aerial bombing runs on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques will hardly satisfy protesters there or in other areas where military training is opposed. The president, during his European trip, said the shelling will stop by May 2003. Protesters want the shelling to stop now.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he was "in full agreement" with the president. But he insisted that the president's decision would not affect Pentagon decisions to continue training at other sites that have been subjected to protest. Even so, the policy on Vieques shows flexibility that may be cited by opponents in other disputes, such as Army training in Oahu's Makua Valley.

The Navy's bombing range on Vieques covers 900 acres, less than 3 percent of the island, but a study has found that many people living there have shown symptoms of an unusual heart disorder associated with exposure to loud noises. A bomb dropped by a Marine Corps plane accidentally killed a civilian guard in 1999, prompting a halt in bombing. Despite a call by the Secretary of the Navy in the last days of the Clinton administration for continued suspension of the bombing, it resumed last month.

The Pentagon has called the Vieques range "the best in the Atlantic" and argued that it is vital to national security because no other locale suitable for battle simulation is available.

Bush said, however: "My attitude is that the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises, for a lot of reasons." He added that the Navy will find another suitable location "within a reasonable period of time."

The president's decision calls into question military claims that present training areas are vital to national security. Marine Corps exercises on the Japanese island of Okinawa have generated major protests. Army training in Makua Valley is being challenged on environmental and cultural grounds in federal court by Malama Makua, a group of Leeward Oahu residents represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

The Pentagon has a powerful argument in asserting that a particular area is vital because its cannot be duplicated for training elsewhere. When the president provides assurances that training will end in one area that the Pentagon has called unique and says that another place can be found, however, the credibility of that justification in other areas comes into dispute.

OHA’s Waimea proposal
may be worth the risk

The issue: OHA's proposed acquisition
of Waimea Valley has tempting
cultural and financial possibilities.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs' proposal to buy Waimea Valley on the North Shore is an ambitious plan with great cultural potential. It is also a risky venture. The OHA board's cautious approach to its first land investment shows it is aware of the need to evaluate the full costs of the plan. In entering into a business, there is danger of jeopardizing its financial assets because it must cover the valley's operating costs that may amount to as much as $2 million a year.

The trustees have acknowledged that the purchase depends on the City Council, and their willingness to work with the Council suggests that the board understands its role. It cannot revert to the internal political battles that have stymied previous boards and served only to alienate its native Hawaiian constituency as well as other government agencies.

The City Council will decide next week whether to condemn the valley that is home to the Waimea Falls Adventure Park, which was placed in bankruptcy in April after its owners failed to find a buyer. The Council had budgeted $5.2 million for the land but put off action when it learned that OHA was interested.

The board has prudently decided it will make the acquisition only if the land is free of liens and if the price is close to what the Council has allotted.

The board and the Council envision the land as a preservation area, not as the theme park it is now.

OHA wants to recast the valley as a cultural destination that would illustrate the traditional use of an ahupua'a, a mountain-to-sea segment of land from which early Hawaiians gathered their food and other life necessities. The plan's chief proponent, John Waihee IV, contends that the valley's plants, including 400 endangered indigenous species, its two heiau and waterfall would provide a natural setting for such an undertaking.

The city's objective of preserving the 1,875-acre property as a park folds into OHA's proposal and both groups appear willing to operate either a joint ownership or a partnership.

OHA's purchase would nearly fulfill its investment policy that calls for placing 1 percent of its assets, estimated at $350 million, into land acquisition, a goal that has thus far evaded the agency.

The challenges OHA faces are formidable. If it succeeds, it could gain a valuable financial asset and fill an educational and cultural void for the community and Hawaii's visitors.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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