Windward ordnance on Army cleanup list
By Eloise Aguiar
Windward O'ahu Writer
KANE'OHE The Army Corps of Engineers has designated lands in He'eia Kea, Kahalu'u and Maunawili for ordnance cleanup more than 50 years after the military used the sites for training and camps.
Pali Training Camp and the He'eia Training Combat Area, which includes Kahalu'u parcels in Waihe'e and Ka'alaea valleys, are at the top of a list of 500 possible sites in the Pacific that could be cleared of World War II ordnance, according to Chuck Streck, project manager for the corps, which is forming a community-based advisory board for the project.
The sites total nearly 6,800 acres. He'eia Kea land was used for barracks, weapons ranges, hand grenade ranges and obstacle courses. In Kahalu'u the parcels were used for maneuvers and for jungle and assault training.
Pali Training Camp is now the Pali Golf Course. The encampment had rifle ranges, obstacle courses, a combat course and a 400-yard jungle firing course. An artillery impact area was in the rear of Maunawili Valley.
Hand grenades, practice rifle grenades, practice bazooka rounds and .30- and .50-caliber projectiles have been discovered at He'eia Kea where the city is planning a park, Streck said. Similar types of ordnance are suspected to be buried along the Maunawili Demonstration Trail and in agriculture lots in upper Kahalu'u.
"It's not worth panicking about," he said. "It is worth concern but it should be knowledgeable concern."
Finding stray ordnance in Windward O'ahu is not new. On several occasions the community or families have requested cleanups in the area, including at He'eia Kea and Waikane, where the Kamaka family leased about 200 acres to the military for target practice.
The military backed away from clearing the Kamaka property in the 1980s, citing high costs. The land is now fenced in and of no use.
Snookie Mello, whose family moved to Ka'alaea Valley in 1951, played in the pasture lands behind the family farm and remembers seeing foxholes there.
"We used to find shells up there all the time," Mello said. "You probably can still find bullets there, except that it's all overgrown now."
Jerry Kaluhiwa, whose family lived in He'eia Kea for 200 years, said he used to dig for bullets and use them in a slingshot. When he got older, the boys would use pipes in a campfire to shoot off the bullets.
"We thought it was funny," said Kaluhiwa, 60. "When we got caught we got good scoldings."
Kaluhiwa moved onto the property in the 1950s after the camp was abandoned. He has a detailed map of the camp, created for one of the area's more recent landowners who wanted to develop million-dollar homes there. The Kaluhiwas have been caretakers on the property for about 20 years.
Kaluhiwa's wife, Jerry, recalls how He'eia Kea was the center of controversy in the '60s and '70s when the families there, including the Kaluhiwas, were evicted for future development.
A nuclear power plant was slated for the area, she said, but that proposal was shot down by the community. Then a marina subdivision was proposed, then a golf course and, most recently, expensive homes.
Rocky Kaluhiwa, a community activist who has been involved in building three parks in the community, said she would like to see a cultural park built in He'eia Kea now that the city is planning to acquire the land. The cleanup will make that possible.
"It took us 20 years to get this land into public hands," she said. "I always said something good will come of this."
Training and camp sites mushroomed throughout the Pacific during the war to prepare troops for combat. A total of 1,400 sites in Hawai'i, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. island possessions have been identified. Of these, about 500 are classified as Defense Environmental Restoration ProgramFormerly Used Defense Sites. More than half of the formerly used defense sites are in Hawai'i, and the list includes 37 Hawai'i locations suspected of having ordnance.
The sites were cleared when the military abandoned them after the war, Streck said. But the techniques used 50 years ago produced minimal results. Now the Department of Defense is revisiting those old sites and determining if more needs to be done to reduce the risk to human health and safety and the environment.
Any cleanup should take into account the historic value that remains on these properties, said John Reppun, a Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board member and farmer who grew up near He'eia and remembers playing in a bunker there as a youth. The land still has roads that were built by the military that could become part of hiking trails.
"As this goes forward it should be with an eye to the history and preserving some of those things that help us understand what we've been through," Reppun said. "A bomb shelter, like it or not, can be a potential historic site."
On the basis of 38 criteria, including potential for development and human use, the sites in He'eia, Pali, Maunawili and Kahalu'u were placed at the top of the list. Two other areas in Hawai'i have also received attention: the Waikoloa Maneuver Area on the Big Island and Papohaku on Moloka'i.
Papohaku is furthest along in the process to inventory the land, determine costs and begin cleanup. The Army Engineers have completed an engineering evaluation/cost analysis for Waikoloa and Papohaku and are seeking money for the cleanups.
A cost analysis is being initiated for the Windward O'ahu sites, and a Restoration Advisory Board of community representatives will be involved in setting priorities.
Nationally there are 9,000 locations classified as formerly used defense sites. The program's annual budget is about $200 million.
The Pacific region receives about $5 million a year, barely enough for a small cleanup. For instance the Moloka'i cleanup will cost $3 million to $5 million, and He'eia could cost $26 million, Streck said. Waikoloa with 123,000 acres, four times the area of Kaho'olawe is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.
Because money is tight and priorities have shifted since Sept. 11, public input will help the corps determine what will be done at the sites, Streck said. Congress, however, makes the final decision about where the money goes.
An initial meeting to explain the process took place last month. Anyone interested in joining the Restoration Advisory Board should apply by Feb. 29.
Neighborhood board members from Kailua, Kane'ohe and Kahalu'u were surprised that the sites posed a potential danger to the community. Kailua board member Donna Wong said the initial invitation to join the board was limited to Kane'ohe residents, but said it's clear that Kailua residents should be involved.
Wade Okuda, who was involved with the Kamaka family's battle to force the military to clear Waikane, said government now believes it can clean property but "they cannot guarantee 100 percent and that's the sad part."
To join the Restoration Advisory Board, call Clayton Sugimoto, of Will Chee Planning Inc., at 955-6088 or Streck at 438-6934.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.