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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Makua site access to resume

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaiian cultural groups yesterday received permission from the Army to resume civilian access to the Makua Military Reservation after experts detonated unexploded ordnance found in the Leeward Coast military training range.

The Army approved cultural groups' request to go into three valleys on Sunday in advance of a makahiki planned for Dec. 14 and 15, said Dennis Drake, U.S. Army Garrison Hawai'i public affairs director.

The reservation has been closed for more than a month except to essential security and demolition personnel, Drake said. Crews will be working today and tomorrow on cleaning up shrapnel or other debris from the area, Drake said.

With the bombs detonated, the way is cleared for Hawaiian practitioners to observe the makahiki, a Hawaiian religious and holiday observance, said William Aila Jr., Hui Malama O Makua spokesman.

Hawaiian cultural groups also asked to offer a prayer or offering for the site after yesterday's detonation, but their request was denied, Aila said.

"We're anticipating that the Army will say yes," Aila said. "Our plan is to allow for the makahiki to go on as scheduled. But we're feeling that anything cultural at Makua is unwelcome."

The makahiki was initially scheduled for Nov. 16-17, but the discovery on Nov. 1 of an unexploded World War II 250-pound fuse bomb, along with an 81-millimeter mortar and a 106-millimeter anti-tank round in the 4,190-acre valley, halted all cultural-access visits. To ensure public safety, a five-mile perimeter was established around the blast zone, which meant Farrington Highway was closed briefly during yesterday's detonation.

"The removal today is good news for everyone," said David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney. "There were no fires and no cultural sites hurt that we know of."

The Army is under court order to provide cultural access to the area, according to a 2001 settlement agreement. Cultural practitioners complain that the bombs did not pose as big a threat as the military made out, Henkin said.

"The Army has restricted cultural access to the valley for more than a month for something that they thought was a public safety threat," he said.

The Army hired a contractor who conducted an unexploded ordnance sweep at Makua from Oct. 29 to Nov. 19 to clear the roads and trails leading to cultural areas. Once the sweep was completed, the Army moved quickly to destroy the munitions in accordance with federal, state and local laws, Army spokesman Drake said.

After the bombs were identified, the Army placed thousands of sandbags and other barriers around the munitions, Drake said.

The ordnance was about 500 meters from where the practitioners intended to hold the makahiki, Aila said.

"We're holding it within the window of makahiki, it's just a little later than we'd like," Aila said. "Makua is sacred to Hawaiians."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.