Target Island Needs $1 Billion from US Military

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By: Megan Kono

The Island of Kaho’olawe is just off the coast of Maui and was used by the US Navy for military target practice. The Navy bombed the 45 square mile island from World War II. After decades of protests by the Native Hawaiians, President George H W. Bush ordered the military to stop their target practice in December of 1990. It was agreed that the military would remove 100% of the ordinance from Kahoolawe.

Forty-two years later, “Despite an expensive cleanup of unexploded ordnance [by the US Military], the island and its surrounding waters are still littered with bullets, shells and bombs.” Scientists from over fifty countries urge the “U.S. military to spend $1 billion to remove the unexploded ordnance on Kahoolawe and restore its environment.” The Navy’s failure to clean up Kaho’olawe has caused damage to the Island and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners; they should be held responsible for the damage they have caused.

Kaho’olawe is known as the “most bombed island in the Pacific.” US Navy has rained down, “thousands of bombs, grenades, projectiles and other explosives — one of which, a 500-pound bomb, missed Kahoolawe and hit Maui.” The Navy claimed Kaho’olawe was vital to war tactics. They claimed that the island was so damaged that it could not be revived. Native Hawaiians created an organization called Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana, PKO.

PKO has protested for decades. Finally, after the death of “activist George Helm and his cousin Kimo Mitchell,” the island was given back to the state of Hawaii. The US military spent $400 million with a goal of clearing 100% of the surface and 25% of subsurface—four feet into the ground. The Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) paired up the military to help restore the island. Through the decade of eradicating feral goats, kiawe trees and the unexploded ordinance on the “Target Island,” the military removed almost 30,000 munitions from 26,000 acres of land. In year 2004, the military ran out of funds for restoring Kaho’olawe, removing 75% of surfaces ordinance and 9% of subsurface.

The military left the job unfinished although it was agreed upon to remove 100% of the ordinance. They left the job up to KIRC. Senator Dan Inouye helped grant $44 million to KIRC and by 2008, funds were decreasing rapidly even after major budget cuts. Restoring Kaho’olawe is vital to Hawaiian people. Fueling the Hawaiian Renaissance, practicing cultural beliefs and reviving the land will create unity among Native Hawaiians who hope to restore a Hawaiian nation. For now, Kaho’olawe is left “uninhabitable, its beaches empty except for feral cats and debris that washes ashore. The military “half-assed” their project then simply walked away from the table. Because of the remaining unexploded ordinance and environment degradation, the US military is to be held responsible for fully funding and restoring the “Target Island,” at a cost of $1 billion.

In response to the outrageous request, Navy spokesman Agnes Tauyan said, “at the beginning of the clearance project, the goal was to clear all of the island’s surface and perform additional subsurface clearing for designated areas, but the Navy and state recognized that depended on funding… No one familiar with Kaho`olawe or the clearance project ever promised or expected to clean up all of the (ordnance).” She claims she is not aware of any plans for more funding for the clean up.

Others insist that that cleanup was completed mandated by Senator Inouye’s limited 10-year timeline.

Navy officials aren’t the only ones disagreeing with funding proposals. The Senator Rosalyn Baker from Maui believes the federal government “invested as much as it could.” Baker thinks it is not realistic for the foreseeable future so one must “deal with the reality and move on.”

Ritte, a Native Hawaiian who was jailed six months for illegally landing on Kaho’olawe in 1976, believes funding to restore the island “will ultimately lead to development. He doesn’t buy the idea of Kahoolawe as a place for Hawaiians to re-establish their culture, or as the future land of a sovereign nation.” Although Ritte was jailed while protesting for freeing Kaho’olawe, he said his job is done because they stopped the bombing.

As a polar opposite from Ritte, Auli sees “restoration as a necessary step in the fight for sovereignty.” She claims restoring the Island is their kuleana (responsibility) as Native Hawaiians. Yet “budget cuts will severely limit the agency’s ability to maintain access to the island. That could also affect progress that’s been made on environmental restoration if there’s not enough volunteers or staff members available to consistently tend to anti-erosion projects and similar efforts” says KIRC executive director, Naho’opi’i. The state has planned $2 million for the next two years in restoring Kaho’olawe, that’s less than half of funds requested by KIRC.

Naho’opi’i states “the Navy had used up all the funding that it had received, but it only cleared all ordnance from 75% of the land’s surface; not the 100% agreed upon…The Navy was also supposed to clear ordnance from 25% of the ground’s subsurface, to a depth of four feet, but only cleared 9%.” The Navy had a task to give back the land suitable for habitation but leaves the burden on the people of Hawaii.

512 scientists from all around the world “signed a declaration calling for the state or the federal government to fund “the full remediation and biocultural restoration of the island”” at the 52nd annual conference of the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation in Honolulu last week. The scientist’s declaration states, “The full biocultural restoration of Kaho’olawe is important not only for Hawai‘i and native Hawaiians, but as a model for how restoration could be achieved following demilitarisation anywhere in the world.” They are suggesting $700 million for the remaining removal of ordinance and $300 million “to mitigate erosion, remove invasive animals and restore native plants.”

Keani Rawlings used to live across the ocean on Molokai. Decades later Rawling stands on one of the highest peaks of Kaho’olawe called Moaulaiki while restoring the island. Moaulaiki is known as the Navigator’s Chair, a seat where “Hawaiians used to gather at the peak to teach the science of navigating by the stars.” Kaho’olawe, once thriving with vegetation and life, now lies barren stripped of topsoil, too compact to absorb any water. “It’s been more than two decades since the last bomb was dropped, but Kahoolawe’s past as a military training range still haunts the small island southwest of Maui.”

Restoring Kaho’olawe is essential to revitalizing the Hawaiian culture, taking responsibility for damage done by the military, and setting a model for restoration projects around the world. Healing Kaho’olawe is a “physical and spiritual renewal that is deeply rooted in the revival of cultural practices, traditions, and rituals.” Kaho’olawe is more than just a 45 square mile rock. Kaho’olawe offers life, learning and understanding between man and nature. “McGregor, a University of Hawaii professor, wants the state [or federal government] to fund KIRC and hopes Kahoolawe will someday host a training center for training Hawaiian cultural practitioners.” It’s about time the US Military takes kuleana for the damage they’ve done.

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