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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 8, 2003

Change in leadership sought for Midway

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Measures introduced in the U.S. Senate and House call for removing Midway Atoll from the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service has announced it may be forced at the end of this month to shut down most facilities on the atoll's main island if it does not find money to operate them.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said a major problem is that Midway's facilities have more value to other federal agencies than to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but those other agencies are not helping pay for them.

Neither of the measures to replace the service was introduced by Hawai'i's congressional delegation. House Resolution 924 was introduced earlier this year by Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., and Senate Bill 1574 was introduced Sept. 2 by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Lugar's bill states: "It is important that current and future generations have access to those sites associated with the great military events in U.S. history. Midway Atoll is one such site. The Battle of Midway is widely regarded by historians as the turning point of World War II in the Pacific and arguably the most pivotal engagement of the entire war. Despite Midway's remote location, the federal government must do everything in its power to permit public access to the site and properly commemorate its designation as a national memorial."

Among the lobbying forces urging the removal of the Fish and Wildlife Service: Midway Phoenix Corp., which had the contract to run tourism at the atoll before it departed, complaining that the Fish and Wildlife Service was enacting restrictions that made it impossible to conduct a profitable business; and the International Midway Memorial Foundation, which wants the atoll kept open so visitors can honor the military history of the site.

The foundation's representatives have been critical of the Fish and Wildlife Service for not having quickly reopened Midway to public access after the departure of Midway Phoenix. They also have been critical of the Navy for not being active in the controversy.

"A federal agency (the Fish and Wildlife Service) has disdain for and indifference to the most decisive naval battle in U.S. Navy history, and this same military branch of our armed forces is quiet on the issue," the foundation said in its summer newsletter.

Of Hawai'i's congressional delegation, Case said he supports the national memorial status, but believes the Fish and Wildlife Service is the right agency to oversee the atoll. Sen. Daniel Inouye's office said he has not yet taken a position on the issue. The offices of Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Neil Abercrombie did not respond to Advertiser requests for information.

"I think the long-term future of Midway is related to wildlife activities, and I think the Fish and Wildlife Service is the right jurisdictional place for it," Case said.

He said he hopes the service will get financial help from the various agencies that have some use for the island, among them the military for its mid-Pacific airfield, refueling facilities and harbor; the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines for the atoll's value as an emergency runway; and the Coast Guard for its ship and aircraft refueling capabilities during North Pacific law-enforcement patrols.

Both measures would direct the secretary of the interior to replace the Fish and Wildlife Service and order the atoll reopened to public access.

Although they do not designate a replacement agency, Midway Phoenix and International Midway Memorial Foundation officials have said they would prefer to work with the National Park Service, which is also within the Department of the Interior.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.