Makua ban draws protesters
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By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer
By Will Hoover
MAKUA — Dressed in black and red mourning kihei, or capes, two dozen protesters yesterday accused the Army of stalling to remove a fused, 250-pound, World War II-era bomb that kept them from a two-day traditional makahiki celebration at the Makua Military Reservation.
The Army uncovered the bomb and two artillery shells during an ordnance sweep on Nov. 1, roughly 500 yards from where yesterday's annual makahiki celebration was scheduled to begin.
The military left the bomb partially exposed, declared the reservation off limits to civilians, and established a 1,800-meter "exclusion zone" around the bomb that extends into the ocean and includes Farrington Highway, the main road into and out of the Wai'anae Coast.
"The Army is doing all it can to provide cultural access," said Dennis Drake, U.S. Army Garrison, Hawai'i's director of public affairs. "But once those bombs were found, we had to close the reservation."
Drake said a plan to detonate or remove the bomb is in progress, but has yet to be completed. He said he had no idea how long the bomb would remain in the valley or how long the reservation will be closed.
Drake insisted that the timing of the closure of the reservation at the same time as the scheduled makahiki celebration was coincidental.
"I know that sounds kind of trite, but it's true," he said.
Yesterday's protesters set up a vigil outside the gates of the Makua Military Reservation that included men, women and children who chanted in Hawaiian, blew conch shells and posted hand-painted signs along Farrington Highway that read, "Stop The Double Talk," and "Army Denied Makahiki Clean Up."
The two groups, Malama Makua and Hui Malama 'O Makua, dispute the Army's claims that the bomb is a threat to the public. They accused the military of using a six-decades-old bomb as an excuse to deny them their right to observe religious cultural practices inside Makua Valley.
A 2001 court decree stated that the groups must be allowed access to sacred sites within the reservation no less than twice a month. Since then, tensions have flared between the practitioners and the Army over access. The military is allowed to deny access for safety reasons. The groups contend the military concocts such issues to keep them out.
The bomb threat, they said, is the latest example.
"Our position is either they are lying and using this as a convenient excuse to deny cultural access, or they really believe what they are saying and they are being irresponsible in not protecting the public on the highway and in the beach park (within the exclusion zone)," said David Henkin, an attorney with Earthjustice, an ecological law firm representing Malama Makua.
"If they believe this bomb's about to blow, then get it out of there," Henkin said.
The Army said it would be irresponsible to consider the bomb anything other than an imminent threat.
The cultural practitioners have an ally in state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, D-45th (Wai'anae, Makaha, Makua), who issued a statement calling the military's response "mixed," and saying the Army appeared to be using "over-kill tactics in declaring an emergency situation and establishing a 1,800 meter 'exclusion zone' that covers a sizeable stretch of Farrington Highway, the whole of Makua Beach park, and on into the ocean."
Shimabukuro said in her statement that the Army created the "appearance of an emergency" by establishing a blast zone that excludes the makahiki celebrants but doesn't warn or protect those who may be swimming, fishing or diving inside that same zone.
Drake said Army personnel had sandbagged the area around the bomb to mitigate the danger it poses "within the confines of the reservation." He added that the military is sensitive to cultural groups' right to have access to sites within the reservation, and that it has met every requirement to do that while maintaining public safety.
Henkin has prevailed against the Army over Makua Valley before in the courts. But Henkin said the dispute over the newly discovered ordnance "should not have to go to court. The Army's position is so inconsistent and ridiculous, that we believe that when exposed to the court of public opinion, it's not going to hold up."
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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