Leaders should forge a Makua settlement
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Lingering discord over the future of Makua Valley — sacred to Native Hawaiians, valued by the military as a training ground — has again reached a flash point.
In the past few months, lengthy negotiations between the Army and Hawaiian cultural groups over access to four key historic sites in the valley have hit a snag. The Army has decided to limit visitors to trails and overlooks, without physically touching or stepping on the sites. This, officials say, will help to avoid damaging the sites.
Some Hawaiian groups have found that arrangement completely unsatisfactory. The cultural use of the sites, sanctioned by a 2001 federal court decree, would naturally involve touching them.
It's unfortunate that some reasonable accommodation still seems so remote.
The Army cites safety concerns as part of its rationale for a hands-off policy. In a written statement, officials underscored that "Makua Military Reservation is a live-fire training range, and as such, safety hazards like unexploded ordnances are present."
However, the Department of Defense closed public access to selected sites in 2005 for this reason and began a project to clear ordnance from those areas. So it's unclear why ordnance can be cited as a reason to bar some limited close approaches. Between the court accord in 2001 and 2005, access had been allowed, under strict supervision.
Malama Makua has indicated its intent to secure meaningful access to the sites, even if it means filing another suit.
This outcome should be avoided by resuming, and expanding, the negotiations, something the Army says it's willing to do. Representatives of the various stakeholders — Native Hawaiians, our Congressional delegation, the state, county and military — should convene a working group to settle the issues.
This group could help resolve the cultural access question and address the broader disagreement over the long-term use of Makua. That will take political will and leadership to resolve.
Advocates are positioned to take the dispute back to court. Nobody's interests would be served by that move. Hawai'i's land-use issues such as this one are best settled through dialogue, not the courts.