Navy gets buffer
for Kauai base
The state will protect the missile
range from adjacent development
through at least 2029
LIHUE >> After a contentious eight-hour hearing, the state Land Board agreed yesterday to establish a buffer zone on 5,641 acres of state-owned land adjoining the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility.
The decision protects the west Kauai missile range from encroachment by developers at least through 2029.
The agreement calls for the Department of Land and Natural Resources to lease to the Navy 270 acres of state land between the base and Kuhio Highway for free. The Navy wants to keep the land vacant for security reasons.
It also places an easement on 5,371 acres of state land mauka of Kuhio Highway that prevents any development. Most of the land was used for sugar cane by Amfac/JMB until it shut down its Kekaha Sugar Co. in late 2000. Gay & Robinson is leasing the land for sugar cane production, but stopped planting new cane on the property this year.
The Navy did not get all it asked for.
It originally asked that the lease and the easement be forever. The board decided to limit the action to 25 years with reviews every 10 years.
The Navy also asked for the power to grant or reject subdivision applications. The land board refused to give the Navy that power, but as a neighbor, the Navy will be informed of any subdivision applications to the state or county.
Lynn McCrory, Kauai's representative on the land board, negotiated much of the deal with the Navy.
The state has never granted an easement to block development in the past. "It's not like anything we've ever done before," said McCrory, whose term ended after yesterday's meeting.
In the hearing that preceded the vote, business and agriculture interests strongly supported creating the buffer zone, while environmentalists, surfers and native Hawaiian sovereignty groups opposed it.
But it was a far cry from a meeting last fall at which the idea failed to receive a single word of support.
"We were caught off guard by the public's level of concern," Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, told the land board yesterday.
The Navy has been wooing the west Kauai community, including throwing a party for community leaders at the base Saturday night.
Although many residents, particularly surfers and fishermen, have chafed at limitations on beach access in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, McCullough said, "Today, PMRF is the most open Navy base in the world."
McCullough said the facility is the only missile-testing facility the Navy has left that isn't being threatened by developers.
"What makes PMRF so unique is its isolated location," he said. "PMRF still has the good fortune to be surrounded by agricultural land, which is an ideal situation."
The loudest objections yesterday came from Kauai's Hawaiian sovereignty advocates.
Activist Nani Rogers, who led efforts to close the Navy base a decade ago, asked the land board to "stop the theft of more of our native lands."
She insisted the land is the property of the Polynesian people, not the state. "These are lands that the state does not own, nor has the authority to sell, lease, give away or change," Rogers said.