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Hawaii sued over monitoring of Army at Pohakuloa

Two Native Hawaiians are suing the state in an effort to ensure that the military is complying with the terms of its lease of ceded lands at Poha­ku­loa Training Area on Hawaii island.

In a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court, Clarence Ching and Mary Maxine Kahaulelio contend that the state has not been checking for compliance with two sections of the lease: removal or deactivation of "live or blank ammunition," and the removal or burial of waste materials.

David Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said it's not clear whether the military has violated the lease, but that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is supposed to monitor the military's activity.

"This suit is about the state's job," he said. "The state's job is to make sure the federal government fulfills the terms of the lease."

In January, the lawsuit says, when the plaintiffs requested documents showing the state's efforts at ensuring the military is complying with the lease, the state said there was no government rec­ord.

"What should happen is the state should do an inspection," Frankel said. "You would expect them to write up a report. You would expect them to do their due diligence and regular monitoring. If they find that the terms of the lease were not being complied with, then the state needs to take action."

A DLNR spokes­woman said the department was served with the lawsuit but does not comment on pending litigation. Also named in the suit are the Board of Land and Natural Resources and its chairman, William Aila.

Frankel said Ching and Kahaulelio live near PTA and are concerned about what is happening to the land. According to the lawsuit, the weapons used at Poha­ku­loa include anti-tank weapons, howitzers, mortars, field artillery, air defense artillery, explosives, rockets, missiles and weapons using depleted uranium.

The suit says the state is already aware that munitions might litter the ground. It cites a March 2013 report on the construction of a Poha­ku­loa infantry platoon battle course that said unexploded ordnance and explosives of concern are "expected to be encountered during range construction activities."

The suit seeks to ban the state from negotiating a new lease for Poha­ku­loa until the state ensures compliance with the existing lease. The current lease expires in 2029.

"What's the point of allowing further activity if the Army is not going to comply with the basic requirements that they agreed to back in 1964?" Frankel asked.

On Monday, the same day the Poha­ku­loa suit was filed, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa announced a bill that includes a provision to build up Poha­ku­loa into the premier training range in the Pacific. A spokes­man from Hana­busa's office had no comment on the lawsuit.

Frankel added, "I think Congresswoman (Hana­busa) needs to spend some time thinking about the degree to which the military has complied with the terms of this lease and the kinds of damage that's being done to the land there."

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