Kahoolawe access
to be limited

The former target island will return
to state control Nov. 11

By Pat Omandam

Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission officials warned yesterday that the former target island will not immediately be opened to the public once the state regains ownership on Nov. 11.

What will happen, they said, is continuation of a controlled, deliberate process of access that ensures visitors understand the potentially deadly hazards of the 28,800-acre island before they even step foot on it.

"The door isn't going to fling wide open," said commissioner Burt Sakata, who said the plan is to slowly transition into public access to the reserve area that covers the island and its surrounding waters.

Access, liability and funding for Kahoolawe were top issues at a state Senate briefing yesterday. Under a 1993 agreement between the state and federal governments, the state will regain control of the uninhabited island Nov. 11 -- 62 years after the federal government took control of it in 1941.

The island's use as a military range stopped in 1990. Since 1993 the U.S. Navy has spent nearly $400 million to clear unexploded ordnance and other munitions to provide safe access to the island.

Executive Director Keoni Fairbanks estimates 67 percent of the island will be cleared by November. It will take the Navy until March 14, 2004, to pack up from what it has described as the largest Department of Defense unexploded-ordnance project in the world.

State Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), chairman of the Senate Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee, said yesterday that legislators are worried about the state's liability as interest in visiting the island increases following the transfer.

He is worried the commission -- the state agency managing the island until it is turned over to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity -- has not done enough to ensure the state will not be at fault if someone is injured.

"You've got a big island over there," Kawamoto said. "If somebody unexpectedly goes in ... and a bomb blows up ... somebody is going to be in trouble."

But commission officials said its management plan for the island covers all bases. First off, visitors must understand and acknowledge the hazardous conditions, which include unexploded ordnance, high surf, steep terrain, excessive heat with no fresh-water source and dangerous shoreline conditions.

Stanton Enomoto, the commission's senior policy adviser, explained visitors will be allowed in only cleared areas, and trained guides will lead the way.

There will be limits on activities and the number of visitors allowed. And physical markings and signs will warn of hazardous areas, he said.

State Deputy Attorney General Jack Rosenzweig, the commission's legal counsel, said the precautions taken are adequate from a legal standpoint and limit the liability for the state.

Protect Kahoolawe Ohana officials say liability was the reason why the Navy denied access last month to a 5-year-old who was a part of the group. Spokeswoman Davianna McGregor said yesterday that minors have been allowed for the past two decades, and she does not understand why they are being denied now, when the island is safer.

McGregor said the group and the Navy will meet to discuss the issue, and she hopes it is resolved in the next two months.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --