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Native Hawaiians, Community Protest Army Failure to Remove Bomb from Makua

Army foot-dragging threatens public safety, disrupts Hawaiian cultural observance
November 17, 2007
Makua, Oahu, HI —

Since 6 p.m. on Friday, November 16, 2007, community groups Malama Makua and Hui Malama 'O Makua and their supporters have held a vigil outside the gates of Makua Military Reservation on O'ahu, protesting the Army's failure to remove a World War II-vintage, 250-pound bomb the Army claims threatens public safety on Farrington Highway and at Makua Beach Park. The vigil is being held during the time originally scheduled for observance at Makua of the opening of the Makahiki, the traditional Hawaiian celebration of the time of peace, pursuant to an October 4, 2001 settlement agreement between the Army and Malama Makua (represented by Earthjustice) that guarantees cultural access. The Army canceled the cultural access following the bomb's discovery on November 1, 2007, due to alleged safety concerns, but has refused to remove the bomb or, even, make plans for its disposal.

 

"We resent the Army's double-talk about the bomb," said William Aila, a spokesperson for Hui Malama 'O Makua. "If the Army is really concerned about safety, it should get rid of the bomb immediately to protect the families who use Makua Beach, fish off-shore, and travel along Farrington Highway. On the other hand, if there isn't a real threat to public safety, the Army should have allowed the Makahiki to proceed on schedule."

The Army has established an "exclusion zone" of over 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) from the bomb, which is located approximately 1500 feet mauka (east) of Farrington Highway, claiming people within that zone might be injured by bomb fragments should it explode. The area the Army claims is at risk includes all of Makua Beach Park, where Wai'anae Coast families play, swim, fish and gather limu, and extends about a half mile offshore (see attached map). The Army ignored calls to clean up the bomb prior to the busy Veterans Day holiday weekend, saying it would not even start to make plans for the bomb's removal until it completes a sweep for unexploded ordnance on November 19, 2007, nearly three weeks after the bomb's discovery.

"We've celebrated the Makahiki at Makua for six years, with no safety problems," explained Momi Kamahele, a kumu hula and cultural advisor for the Makua Makahiki. "It doesn't make any sense for the Army to say it's too dangerous for us to go into Makua to practice our religion and, at the same time, refuse to remove a bomb it says threatens the lives of keiki playing at Makua Beach. The Army's either lying about the danger, because it wants an excuse to deny us our cultural access, or it's being incredibly reckless with innocent people's lives."

The agreement the Army signed in October 2001 to settle Malama Makua's lawsuit over the Army's failure to prepare an environmental impact statement for training at Makua requires the Army to allow cultural access like the Makahiki celebration that had been scheduled for this weekend. It also calls for clearance of unexploded ordnance posing a safety threat to members of the public outside the military reservation's boundaries. The settlement provides that, "[i]n order to reduce the risk to individuals on Makua Beach and Farrington Highway, the [25th Infantry Division] shall finalize and submit to [Army headquarters] for approval a plan for [unexploded ordnance] clearance for the area within [Makua Military Reservation] extending 1,000 meters mauka (towards the mountains) from Farrington Highway."  Despite the agreement's requirement for the Army to complete these clearance activities "as soon as practicable," more than six years after signing the settlement, the Army still has not done so. The 250-pound bomb discovered on November 1, 2007, lies within the 1,000-meter zone the Army was supposed to have cleared.

"If the Army had lived up to its end of the bargain, we wouldn't have this threat to public safety and this disruption to cultural practice," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represents Malama Makua and negotiated the 2001 agreement. "Six years ago, the Army agreed to clean up all the unexploded ordnance that might harm the community, including this bomb. Having failed to keep its promise then, the Army should not drag its feet now and get rid of the bomb."

View a map of the bomb "Exclusion Zone" declared by the Army.

Contacts

David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, ext. 14

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.