Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Spit and polish gone from Kalaeloa

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

KALAELOA — The cigarette butts, beer cans and soiled diapers that spill out of the trash cans every day stand as an ugly testament to the way life has changed at the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

White Sands Beach used to be a clean, quiet getaway for those with the privilege to use it. Now that the beach and other parts of the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station have been opened to the public, candy wrappers and soda cans often are found in the sand.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Not long ago, workers and military families saw beaches that were free of trash. Vandalism was rare.

They can recall the days before July 1999, when the Navy shut down its air operations at Barbers Point, restored Kalaeloa’s Hawaiian name and offered 2,150 acres to a jumble of federal, state and city agencies for everything from open space to housing for the homeless.

Closing Barbers Point after 57 years followed the movement to shutter surplus military bases around the country. Today, no one has complete oversight. And the Barbers Point Naval Air Station Redevelopment Commission is scheduled to go out of existence on June 30.

A private security company, Royal Guard, has been hired at night to staff the old guard shack at the entrance to the base. Honolulu police respond to some calls. And the number of one-person Navy patrols roaming throughout Kalaeloa 24 hours a day has been increased from two to four.

But, as they have since the once military-only property was opened to all, complaints continue to come.

Last year, there were 53 cases of property theft and eight burglaries, including safes taken from the golf course. Four months ago, someone drove a forklift through the front doors of the military’s Touch ’N Go mini mart and dragged the automated teller machine out to the parking lot trying to get to the money.

Navy officials can’t compare the crime rate to the days of full military control because the records were lost during the turnover, said Navy spokesman Bill Roome.

But most of the problems aren’t of the criminal kind.

Every day, Doug Diaz and the rest of the custodial crew fight to keep up with a barrage of garbage at the two main beaches, White Plains and Nimitz.

'Real shock to people'

Diaz, a civilian who works for the Navy, remembers the quiet days when Navy security kept civilians out.

"It’s been a real shock to the people who work here," Diaz said as a work crew picked up garbage at White Plains last week. "There’s been an onslaught on what had been a real sleepy beach for the Navy. Now it’s chaotic. The trash has become a health issue. You get a lot of flies, and sometimes we have to empty the trash cans several times a day."

Much of the debris never makes it into garbage cans, many of which are marked "TRASH" in black military block letters. Both beaches are pocked with mounds of cigarette butts, candy wrappers and bottle caps.

Dee Ungureit lay on her beach towel at White Plains, surrounded by piles of cigarette butts. Nearby an orange lifeguard stand was empty; a sign warned that no lifeguard was on duty.

Ungureit, a military wife for 24 years, has been around the world and never had seen anything like Kalaeloa until she arrived in Hawaii six months ago.

"In just six months, things have gotten worse," she said. "I can’t believe something like this could happen on a military installation."

Only parts of Kalaeloa remain under military control.

Some of it is being cleaned of aviation fuel, PCBs and even asbestos before being turned over for civilian use. The 752-acre runway that stands in the middle of Kalaeloa is now run by the state Department of Transportation for light aircraft and has become Hawaii’s third busiest airport in terms of flights.

The military side of Kalaeloa remains easy to spot. Just look for the fenced-off areas.

The Army National Guard has taken over the maintenance hangars and office buildings, which are patrolled by private security. The Navy hung onto 1,100 acres of the 3,700-acre base for things such as beachfront cottages and military housing, which are marked off-limits. The Coast Guard also operates behind fences.

Larry Jones has lived on the base for nine years and is particularly angry about an abandoned lime-green Dodge Dart at Nimitz Beach that sits on three flattened tires, just a few yards from the Coast Guard’s sentry shack.

'Never had these problems before'

The car’s trunk has been popped open and the interior torn apart. The remains of two removal notices cling to the windshield. The most recent was dated in October.

"We never had people dumping cars before," said Jones, who works in security at the Navy Exchange at Pearl Harbor. "Can’t nobody make up their mind about who’s responsible. Does the city take it or does the military have jurisdiction? That’s why it takes forever to get these cars towed out. Before, we didn’t have all of these problems."

At its peak, Barbers Point housed and employed hundreds, if not thousands, of people and their families. Roome said it’s impossible to find the exact count.

And today, no one can say how many people use Kalaeloa each day.

But everyone can agree that the mix has changed.

"The main thing is that now that it’s open to people, more folks are using it, which is good," said Mike Golojuch, a member of the Maka-

kilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale neighborhood board. "Unfortunately, there’s more debris on the beaches, the trash cans get filled faster and some people just don’t bother to use them. It’s especially sad when people remember the — quote, unquote — good old days when things were better."

Danvers Fletcher, a 50-year-old artist and calendar/postcard producer from Kapolei, has been surfing at Nimitz and White Plains for 10 years. He joined the Navy League to get access when the Navy operated a closed base.

Although anyone can surf the two beaches now, Fletcher has a new complaint against the recent fences — all marked with signs that read "U.S. Property No Trespassing."

Even a shady beach-side spot below a grove of pine trees that was sometimes opened for local surf meets has been blocked by a gate.

'All of a sudden fences went up'

"When they closed the base, all of a sudden all of these fences went up," he said.

Fletcher’s emotions have been pulled in lots of directions since Barbers Point changed hands. He wants access guaranteed to everyone, but worries about seeing his favorite surf spots overrun.

He stood on the sand — with a view of Diamond Head in the background and Kapolei toward the mountains — and remembered a day last month when he worked on a photo shoot for a calendar.

When Fletcher, the model and photographer returned to their cars, they found the photographer’s rental car burglarized and the model’s bikinis stolen.

"As Kapolei grows to 40,000 people, we’re going to need access to our beaches," he said.

"But I don’t know what to say when something like that happens. I just don’t know what the answer is."

Fletcher then got into his beat-up Nissan and pulled away from a spot where city-and-county workers had installed a no littering sign.

The sign was all but obliterated by graffiti.

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