Ray Lahm examines what is left of a 25-pound practice bomb. These are generally loaded with an ejection and marker charge. Next to him is the crushed casing of a 5-inch artillery shell.

Kahoolawe in transition

The island transfers to state
control this week as the clearing
of ordnance continues

First of two parts

he former military target island that has become a symbol of native Hawaiian activism and cultural rebirth will move into a new phase this week in its journey toward sovereignty.

Control over access to Kahoolawe is scheduled to be formally transferred from the Navy to the state of Hawaii on Tuesday. Because of scheduling conflicts with Veterans Day, the official ceremony will occur at noon Wednesday on the grounds of Iolani Palace.

Prior to the official event, a cultural ceremony will take place on the palace grounds at 11:30 a.m.

While control over access to the island will shift to the state Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, the Navy's ordnance removal contractor, Parsons-UXB Joint Venture, and its 400 workers will continue to work on the island until March 12.

The four-month extension allows the Navy to conduct further ordnance removal and also transfer its equipment off the island, while spending the last of the $400 million authorized by Congress for the cleanup.

A white sand beach, graces what's known by many as Smuggler's Cove on Kahoolawe. The Hawaiian name is Honokanaia.

The Navy halted practice bombing of the island in 1990, after nearly 50 years. Under a 1994 congressional appropriations act, Kahoolawe was conveyed to the state, and the commission was put in charge of restoring the island once the Navy completed its work in clearing the ordnance.

The Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, the native Hawaiian group that conducted protest occupations of the island in 1976, said that while a great deal of work has been done, they are disappointed with the results.

The commission is working out an agreement with the Navy that would remove ordnance unexpectedly found in "cleared" areas of the 28,788-acre island.

The Navy said it has done as much as possible to clear bombs and other potential explosives from the island.

As of Sept. 26, ordnance had been removed from about 70 percent of the surface and 9 percent of the subsurface to a depth of 4 feet.

An aerial view of the island.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said to maximize productivity in the last few months, the Navy plans to create "risk-reduction" areas totaling about 1,845 acres, where surface ordnance will be cleared but nonexplosive items including scrap metal would be left behind.

The Protect Kahoolawe Ohana said the work to create risk-reduction areas is a waste of time because the Navy won't certify them as "safe" for use.

The ohana said the Navy should live up to a 1994 memorandum of understanding to clear 100 percent of the surface and 30 percent of the subsurface.

"The federal government is obligated to do it," said Davianna McGregor, an ohana leader. "An Eisenhower executive order in 1953 had promised even more, saying the whole island would be returned in a state reasonably safe for habitation."

Campbell said the memorandum stated "goals" and a variety of factors affected the clearing of ordnance, including the hilly terrain and difficulty detecting ordnance in a soil with a high iron content.

"It's not a benign environment," she said.

Locations not cleared of ordnance include 17 of the 27 cultural centers/campsites originally in the commission's land use plan in 1995.

Range Clearance Team 3 works a 100-meter-square area on Kahoolawe, picking up anything and everything left by military training exercises for the past half-century. The Navy's ordnance removal contractor, Parsons-UXB Joint Venture, and its workers will continue to work on the island until March.

McGregor said the reduction in ordnance-cleared areas puts more pressure on sites allowed for cultural and camping activities and limits restoration.

"Our goal is to heal the whole island," she said. "We need to expand to other areas."

McGregor said still in question is whether the Navy will be able to clear ordnance along a coastal corridor around the island by March to allow safe use of a planned perimeter trail.

She said the trail would be used in observance of the annual makahiki honoring the agricultural god Lono during harvests.

Commission chairman Dr. Emmett Aluli, also a leader in the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, said the state's primary mandate is to preserve, restore and protect the resources on Kahoolawe and its surrounding waters.

Under a 1993 state law, the island has been designated as a cultural preserve and is to eventually be turned over to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity recognized by the state and federal governments.

Aluli said people may request access to the island through the commission, but he expects entry to be limited to those willing to follow "cultural protocols" and interested in helping to restore the island, including volunteering to assist in planting native species.

"You give back to the land. You just don't take," he said. "You just don't go and look."

To carry out its mandate, the commission is expected to use the remaining $30 million of the $44 million authorized by Congress for the restoration and to seek grants from nonprofit groups.

Commission Vice Chairwoman Colette Machado said she hopes the $30 million will last for eight to 10 years. But commissioners acknowledge that additional money will be needed to remove more ordnance and restore the island.

Reforestation has been difficult on an island with an estimated 12,000 acres of hard ground with virtually no vegetation, mainly a result of overgrazing by goats that once occupied the island.

With no potable ground water, the commission has developed a $3 million rain catchment tank near the island's summit for reforestation and a small desalinization plant in west Kahoolawe for drinking water.

State officials and volunteers have found some success inside Lua Makika crater, where more than 20,000 native species have been planted on about 50 acres.

Eventually, the commission plans to develop trails, education centers and campsites, and also a floating dock at Kuheia in northern Kahoolawe for visitors.

The commission also wants to build an administrative office and visitor center in Kihei, Maui.

Commissioners said they are worried that after the Navy leaves Kahoolawe, some people might attempt to go on the island illegally to steal artifacts and might hurt themselves, creating potential liability problems.

The commission also fears there might be an increase in poaching of ocean and coastal resources within Kahoolawe waters, challenging its ability to enforce access rules.

"Our people are not trained in enforcement," Machado said. "We have limited resources."

While trolling in designated island waters is allowed two weekends a month, bottom fishing has been banned in coastal waters stretching two miles off the shoreline.

The commission plans to have people living on the island and acting as stewards.

Aluli said the commission is attempting to work out a partnership with various agencies to enforce access rules, including the Coast Guard and the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.

He's also hoping that boating associations will continue to assist the commission in reporting poachers.

Aluli said he doesn't know in what form a sovereign entity will eventually be developed to assume control of Kahoolawe.

But he said the passage of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka's bill, providing a process that could lead to federal recognition of native Hawaiians similar to Native Americans and Alaskans, would be a step toward sovereignty.

Aluli said the commission's role is to focus on developing good land restoration practices and maintaining cultural sites.

"I think for us, caring and healing the land is more important right now," he said.

One of the important cultural sites lies at the 1,444-foot level at Moa'ula Iki, where native Hawaiians were once taught how to navigate by the stars.

Aluli said another name for Kahoolawe is "the southern beacon."

"Our major accomplishment has been serving as a model for the native Hawaiian rights movement and a catalyst for grass-roots activism and cultural resurgence," he said. "In a sense, the island is the beacon to guide the next generation."

Tomorrow: The Navy ends its volatile history with the Target Isle


Kahoolawe timeline

>> A.D. 1000: Evidence indicates Hawaiian presence on the island.

>> Late 1800s and 1900s: Cattle and sheep introduced for ranching.

>> May 1941: Kahoolawe Ranch subleases portion of the island to Army for training.

>> Dec. 7, 1941: Under martial law, military begins use of Kahoolawe as a bombing range for aircraft and ships.

>> Feb. 20, 1953: President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs an executive order, reserving Kahoolawe for the use of the United States for naval purposes and places the island under the jurisdiction of the secretary of the Navy.

>> Jan. 4, 1976: Nine protesters with Project Kahoolawe Ohana occupy the island. Seven are arrested within hours, but two elude capture and remain on the island for three days.

>> 1977: James "Kimo" Mitchell and George Helm disappear in an attempt by Hawaiians to reclaim the island.

>> 1979: The state and Navy plant tamarisk trees to fight erosion.

>> 1980: The Navy and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana enter a consent decree, allowing continued military training, access by the PKO, and limited surface clearance of ordnance, soil conservation, goat eradication and an archeological survey of the island.

>> March 18, 1981: The island is added to the National Register of Historic Places.

>> Oct. 22, 1990: President George Bush directs the military to discontinue use of Kahoolawe as a weapons range.

>> 1994: Under a presidential order, the island is turned over to the state, with the understanding that the Navy is to be in charge of the cleanup. Congress projects spending $400 million over 10 years for the project.

>> July 1997: A contract is awarded to Parsons-UXB Joint Venture to clear ordnance from the island.

>> May 23, 2003: A civilian pilot is killed when a cable used to pick up equipment gets stuck in the tail rotor blade of his single-engine Bell 205 helicopter.

>> Nov. 11, 2003: Navy transfers control of access to the state.


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