Ordnance Survey at `Ahihi-Kina`u Reserve Receives Mixed Response from Public

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Robert Lu`uwai, for one, was glad to see it finally happening, but others seemed to think it was not only a waste of money, but a hassle and an abortion of due process.

Last month in the Kihei Elementary School cafeteria, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explained to fewer than 20 Maui residents its plans to locate and clear ordnance, left by the Navy in the 1940s, from the `Ahihi-Kina`u Natural Area Reserve. The reserve encompasses the Maui Bombing Target – Kanahena Point formerly used defense site (FUDS).

Several members of the public attending the September 15 public hearing expressed their dismay that Governor Neil Abercrombie had suspended a slew of environmental laws in June to facilitate the Corps’ survey and cleanup of ordnance on state lands.

“Basically, you’re telling us you’re going to do this project whether we like it or not,” complained one attendee. 

But Lu`uwai thanked the Corps for its efforts, at least with regard to `Ahihi-Kina`u.

For years, Lu`uwai taught his family traditional Hawaiian fishing methods in the reserve under a special use permit from the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

“I don’t want to see my grandkids blown up,” he said, adding that the remediation was long overdue.

Others, however, suggested that the state could simply post signs warning people of the presence of unexploded ordnance and advising them to stay on designated paths.

“I don’t see the risks. … It’s not a keiki playground,” said Kihei resident Larry Armstrong. He added, “1947 might have been an appropriate time to check this out and not 65 years later.”

To this and other similar comments, a Corps contract biologist pointed out that public safety isn’t the only reason to clear ordnance. Munitions can leak toxins into the environment and affect the reserve’s natural resources, she said. (It should also be noted that the October 2010 draft management plan for the reserve includes minimizing the impacts of unexploded ordnance as one of its objectives.)

The Corps and its contractors were expected to begin surveying the 1,300-acre NAR late last month and finish some time in November, said Kate Anthony, deputy project manager for Corps contractor Huikala, LLC.

Ordnance experts will survey transects, covering only about one percent of the NAR, with hand-held metal detectors and may have to remove some vegetation, she said.

Munitions found on the land would either be removed or, if unstable, blown in place. She added that all munitions disposal actions would be coordinated with various state, federal, and county agencies.

Addressing concerns about the impact the detonation might have on the NAR’s terrestrial resources, Anthony said that all threatened and endangered species, cultural resources, and critical habitat would be avoided during the survey.

The reserve includes critical habitat for the endangered Blackburn’s Sphinx moth and anchialine ponds that contain several species of shrimp that are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

After consulting with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Corps decided that munitions found in the ocean would be left alone for now, one Corps representative stated. 

Not only does the NAR include some of the best coral reef habitat in the Main Hawaiian Islands, it is frequented by the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, hawksbill sea turtle, and humpback whale, as well as green sea turtles and spinner dolphins.

Corps contractors will first survey deeper marine areas with an automated sonar device. To avoid damaging live rock and coral, shallow areas along the coast will be surveyed by snorkelers. A remotely operated vehicle will then document munition sites with photos and video. SCUBA will be used to reach areas inaccessible by ROV. 

During the survey, those portions of the reserve that are still open to the public may have to be closed for as much as a day, Anthony said. (Most of the reserve has been closed since August 2008 while the DLNR and the community developed a management plan to address overuse.)

Once the survey is done, the Corps will publish its findings and recommendations in a report, or feasibility study, which will likely be released next August, said Huikala’s Eric Takamura.

The total budget for the survey is $2 million, said project coordinator Lori Wong, adding that the cleanup cost will depend on what’s found.

“There may be no further action,” she said.

Similar to an environmental impact statement (EIS), the feasibility study will include various remediation alternatives, including no action and a preferred alternative, that the public will be able to comment on.

“Under federal law, we don’t have to do both [a feasibility study and an EIS],” said Pat Billington, deputy district counsel for the Corps.

Because the FUDS program is voluntary, the state could choose a no action alternative. But even if it did, the Corps would still have to recommend protective actions that the staste might need to undertake.

“That could vary anywhere from making signs to saying, ‘Hey, you have to close the whole place,’ “ said a Corps representative at a NARS Commission meeting in June. “By instituting that kind of control, it basically excludes everybody, even including [DLNR] staff, without having the proper safety personnel escorting them through. So it could impact upon your management of the NARS as a state entity, but it could also impact the conservation plan that [the FWS[ has in place for the moth, as well.”

For Further Reading

Environment Hawai`i has published several articles over the years regarding ordnance in Hawai`i and the Pacific. The following is a short list. Check them out at our website, www.environment-hawaii.org

• “From Fertile Fields to No-Man’s Land: The Transformation of Waikane Valley,” August 1992;

• “Restoration, not Condemnation: Hawai`i has no Land to Spare,” Editorial, August 1992;

• “Bombs Old and New Devastate Reefs in the Northern Mariana Archipelago,” August 1998;

• “Marines’ Plan for Jungle Training in Waikane Valley Reopens Old Wounds,” May 2003;

• “Ordnance Survey Raises Concerns Among `Ahihi-Kina`u Managers,” August 2011.

Teresa Dawson

Volume 22, Number 4 — October 2011

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