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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 25, 2001

Ford Island caught in tug-of-war between Navy, preservationists

 •  Map: Ford Island's historic sites

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The National Trust for Historic Preservation today pegged battle-scarred Ford Island as one of its 11 most endangered historic places in 2001 — giving a black eye to an ambitious U.S. Navy redevelopment plan for the World War II landmark.

Preservationists say the Navy needs to slow down on plans to develop Ford Island (background).

Advertiser library photo • April 1998

Preservation officials say the Navy's decision to move ahead with a $300 million housing and commercial development project — without completing a preservation plan — has them worried about the fate of historical features ranging from remnants of Japanese strafing runs to 1920s homes and vintage hangars.

"I see Ford Island as sacred ground," said David Scott, executive director of the Historic Hawai'i Foundation. "It's what I call the Gettysburg battlefield of the second World War — plus, it's got resources all the way back to the first world war."

Preservationists credit the Navy for its history-minded outlook over the past several years and for its commitment to save some features on the 450-acre island. However, over the past 18 months communication has become a one-way street, Scott said, with the Navy telling preservation groups what it plans to do more than asking what it should do.

In response, the Navy said it must consider the operational needs of an active military base in weighing preservation goals against modernization efforts at facilities like Ford Island, where there is limited public use.

"The Navy has the desire to preserve the historical significance of Pearl Harbor and Ford Island in particular," said Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for Navy Region Hawai'i. "As we look to future development, we take into consideration the history and balance it with operational and security requirements necessary to maintain this as a premium operational base."

Campbell disputes the claim that preservation concerns aren't being considered, saying, "We don't look at it that way because we continue to have meetings, we continue to share ideas."

National Trust officials say the Navy is under pressure to move ahead with construction. July deadlines loom for a "master developer" proposal for the project and separate plan to build 180 housing units. A contract involving the partial re-use of old bachelors' quarters for a new 140-room Navy "lodge" could be awarded in the next few months.

The full project calls for up to 250,000 square feet of administrative office space on the southeastern end of the island, housing for 600 families, bachelors' quarters for as many as 1,000 sailors, and the possibility of shops and a museum. As many as 75 acres have been earmarked for commercial development in the project, expected to roll out over the next dozen years.

To pay for it, the Navy plans to sell or lease other holdings, including 25 acres at Pearl Harbor Naval Magazine's Waikele Branch, family housing in the Iroquois Point/Pu'uloa area, land at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, and property in Pearl Harbor and on Ford Island not considered essential.

The National Trust says only a portion of the Navy's preservation plan for Ford Island has been completed, leaving some historical elements in limbo.

"The (preservation) plan is not in place for the contractors who are supposed to be designing these facilities," said Paul Edmondson, the National Trust's vice president and general counsel. "I guess the problem is the process is moving in kind of a backwards way."

At stake for groups like the Historic Hawai'i Foundation and National Trust is the historic heart and soul of Ford Island, which is part of the Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark District.

Battleship Row, including the final resting place of the USS Arizona and more than 1,000 of its sailors, is adjacent to the island.

"The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the watershed events of the 20th century," said National Trust President Richard Moe in a statement released from the organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Ford Island's history must be thoughtfully preserved for generations to come, not overrun by piecemeal development. We stand by, ready to assist the Navy in creating a plan to protect the island's historic resources, while enabling appropriate development."

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act calls for federal agencies to review any action that may affect a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with the goal that the agency and state historic preservation office arrive at agreement.

The Navy's "integrated cultural resources management plan," meanwhile, considers existing facilities and provides guidelines for use, but Campbell said the plan is still fledgling "because we're still looking at proposals for what (facilities) are going to be used for."

As penciled in, the proposed 180 housing units encroach onto the apron of the island's airfield runway, which Edmondson calls "a very important part of the historic character of the island." Conceptual plans call for the airstrip to be kept, but as a greenway with runway numbers replicated in contrasting grass tones.

The Navy also wanted to demolish five 1920s-vintage bungalows and a duplex bachelors' quarters — but last week, after learning of the "most endangered" designation, agreed to delay that fate, preservation officials say.

Thirty other bungalows, including 15 on the north side of the island, are among the facilities the Navy has decided to preserve, Scott said. The barber-pole red and white Luke Airfield control tower, still being completed at the time of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack also is slated to be kept.

Evidence of bomb craters and bullet pock marks from Japanese aircraft strafing runs are still visible at the island's seaplane ramps. Those too should be saved, the National Trust says.

"We think they should (be preserved), because they are direct evidence of the attack," Edmondson said.

It's not the first time Hawai'i locations have made it on the annual list of the National Trust, a private, nonprofit organization that claims a quarter million members nationwide.

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium was placed on the list in 1995, while Wa'ahila Ridge was included in 1997 as a result of Hawaiian Electric Co.'s plan to add steel towers and power lines in Manoa Valley.

The History Channel will feature the 2001 "11 Most Endangered" list during a one-hour documentary scheduled to air July 7.

The National Trust makes its intentions clear in naming Ford Island this year. One hope among group members is that Congress will be swayed into providing the Navy more money for preservation.

Listing by the trust can add momentum to preservation efforts.

In Hawai'i, after Wa'ahila Ridge was added to the list in 1997, activists often referred to the Trust's action, bolstering their argument that the ridge was a notable landmark.

Since the Fifth and Forbes Historic Retail Area in Pittsburgh, threatened by widespread demolition as part of a redevelopment plan, joined the list in 2000 the developers have worked with the city to find more preservation-friendly solutions, trust spokesman Gary Kozel noted. And two weeks after the deteriorating President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home in Washington, D.C., was placed on the list last year, President Clinton named it a National Monument, putting it in line for fund-raising efforts to transform it into a world-class historic site.

"Certainly, it helped to have the listings and raise public awareness, and ultimately save the sites," Kozel said.

"We put Ford Island on the list to raise public awareness," said Kitty Higgins, the organization's vice president for public policy. "It has a way of focusing people's attention."