Ordnance Survey Raises Concern Among `Ahihi-Kina`u Managers

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It’s not a done deal yet, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on its way toward clearing south Maui’s `Ahihi-Kina`u Natural Area Reserve of unexploded ordnance deposited during the 1940s, when the Navy used the area for target practice and as a mine-burying site.

At its June 20 meeting in Honolulu, the state Natural Area Reserve System Commission voted to delegate its authority to Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) staff to help craft conditions for a right-of-entry permit to allow the Corps to begin an in-depth survey of the NAR.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will need to approve the permit, which is being prepared by the department’s Land Division in collaboration with the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), the state Historic Preservation Division, and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which administers the NARS program.

Once approved, the Corps and its contractor will be able to survey the 1,000-acre NAR, including marine areas, for ordnance and to take samples to determine if munitions have contaminated the soil. The survey will allow the Corps to determine the extent and type of any remediation necessary to protect the public.

The Corps confirmed the presence of munitions within the NAR in 2008 by walking the various trails that criss-cross the reserve. It has already had to remove ordnance from an anchialine pond.

If bombs are found fused to the rock, they will be destroyed in place within about a day or two of discovery, Ryan Yamauchi told the NARS commission during his presentation in June. Yamauchi is president of Element Environmental, the Corps’ contractor.

Any fused bombs to be destroyed will be covered by sandbags. And instead of blowing up the bombs, which can be as large as a football, his staff will try to simply break them apart with a low dose of explosives, Yamauchi said.

Element Environmental plans to survey the marine portion of the NAR using un-manned sonar and video devices.

At the June meeting, NARS commissioners voiced concerns that the company’s policy to destroy fused munitions within 48 hours may not allow managers to survey the area’s resources or collect material they might want saved. (Waiting any longer than 48 hours would require the posting of a round-the-clock guard, which would increase expenses, Yamauchi said.)

Commissioners, as well as DAR’s Dave Gulko, also expressed their dismay that DLNR staff would not be participating during the marine and terrestrial surveys. Gulko said he was particularly concerned about the potential for the automated survey equipment to damage coral.

“Having DAR staff go along would help minimize impacts,” he said, adding that the area is subject to strong currents, wave action, and wind and has a very complex substrate.

Gulko warned that despite permitting exemptions provided by the federal laws governing the cleanup, “We are allowed to provide permits …. The federal government is not exempt.” He added that `Ahihi-Kina`u, the only NAR in the state to include both terrestrial and marine areas, probably represents the most important marine environment in Main Hawaiian Islands.

The fact that Element Environmental’s marine biologist for the project hailed from Florida was also brought up by Gulko. Because the reserve includes such a unique marine habitat, “bringing in expertise from outside the state without any staff monitoring, it’s questionable whether they are going to be able to determine the risks.”

To Yamauchi, however, having outside staff under his company’s supervision posed too great a liability and would increase project costs.

“Technically, our UXO [unexploded ordnance] tech will have to be out there with whoever is there …. The hard part is if [DLNR staff] signs our safety procedures and they get hurt, do we become liable because they were following our safety procedures?” he said.

NARS Commission chair Dale Bonar suggested an arrangement whereby DLNR staff would be present during the survey, but not under the guidance of Yamauchi’s staff.

That didn’t satisfy Yamauchi. 

“We’re required to have so many safety experts for the people out there…. It will increase our costs,” he said.

“But if it increases your productivity and effectiveness, it may be worth it,” Bonar said.

A Corps representative assured Bonar that his agency would consider the proposal and try to work something else out if it proved unfeasible.

The Land Division has not said when it will bring its permit recommendation to the Land Board, but Yamauchi said he expects the work will take a little more than two months to complete.

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Kona Logging Site May Become NAR

The site of one of the Land Board’s largest violation cases may become part of the Kipahoehoe NAR in south Kona.

The 169-acre sliver of land, wedged between Yee Hop Ranch and the Kahuku section of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, is where loggers working with Damon Estate illegally removed some 200 trees in the late 1990s. 

In 2003, the Land Board fined the loggers more than $1 million for taking trees from state land, but the case remains unresolved, as the loggers continue to contest the state’s ownership of the land in federal court.

Although the land lies in the state Agricultural District, a June proposal to the NARS Commission notes that it also contains `ohi`a dry forest, montane shrubland, pioneer vegetation on lava and koa-`ohi`a montane mesic forest.

“The latter native community is the most diverse and likely to contain rare species,” it states. It adds that, with restoration, the parcel could provide habitat for such rare species as the endangered Hawai`i creeper (Oreomystis mana), the `akepa (Loxops coccineus coccineus), the `io (Buteo solitarius), `akiapola`au (Hemignathus munroi), and the `alala (Corvus hawaiiansis).

The parcel is also adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s Kona Hema preserve and contains a road that would facilitate access to adjacent conservation lands, the report states.

Teresa Dawson

Volume 22, Number 2 — August 2011