Buffeted by opposition, Navy blinks on solar site
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
In the face of opposition from historic preservation groups, the Navy has eased off plans to install photovoltaic panels on the historic Ford Island runway in Pearl Harbor.
In an email Thursday to the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, the service said it would consider alternate sites for the solar array, and that it was suspending consultation with the historic parties for the time being on its Ford Island plan.
"I think they are being responsive to the input they've been given," said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the foundation. "So from Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, from the National Trust (for Historic Preservation), from the Pacific Aviation Museum and from the National Park Serviceall these consulting parties have said, ‘We believe the Navy needs to look more closely at alternates rather than putting it on the Ford Island runway.'"
Kenneth DeHoff, executive director of Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, said the Navy previously objected to other locations for the array.
"Their objection has been there's no place else to put this, and we suggested they put it on the West Loch (naval magazine) area," he said. "They came back and said that was inside the ammunition blast zone. So we took their calculation and plotted it out on the map and showed them there was almost 1,000 acres outside of that blast arc that they could put the panels on."
Navy Region Hawaii said Friday in an email to the Star-Advertiser that the Ford Island runway is one of several locations now being considered on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the photovoltaic array. Others include West Loch and Waipio Peninsula.
"The Navy is studying cost-effective and environmentally sound locations," the command said. "We are committed to balancing our responsibility toward energy security, environmental stewardship, and the preservation of historically significant facilities and structures."
With Battleship Row along its eastern shore, Ford Island was the epicenter of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. The island's Luke Field, established by the Army in 1919, was one of the first military airfields, according to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
It is also where Amelia Earhart crashed on her first attempt to fly around the world in 1937.
"The island is certainly very much the soul of aviation in Hawaii," DeHoff said.
Since at least 2009 the Navy has been seeking to install photovoltaic panels across a large swath of the weedy asphalt that is the former Luke Field as it strives to be less dependent on foreign oil.
The Navy previously offered the adjacent Pacific Aviation Museum, which has a 65-year lease, $250,000 toward renovation of the elevator on the historic control tower, which the museum also oversees, to sign off on the 11-megawatt solar plan, said DeHoff.
The museum said no.
Seeking to bring national attention to its cause, the museum launched a petition and signature drive at change.org.
As of Friday there were 1,148 supporters.
Information on the website said 8,852 more were needed to reach a goal of 10,000 signatures.
"Or 100,000, if that's what it takes," DeHoff said.
The drive has attracted some high-profile supporters.
"To whom it may concern," begins the Sept. 4 letter from retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff. "I understand the Navy intends to install photovoltaic panels over the historic Ford Island runway. Frankly, this decision baffles me. Ford Island and its runway are part of the historic memory of the United States."
McPeak, former commander in chief of Hawaii-based Pacific Air Forces, added that the desire "to deface what should be a national monument is a mystery. Surely there is much other real estate at which sunlight can be gathered in the state of Hawaii."
The Historic Hawai‘i Foundation said that when the Navy first talked about photovoltaics, it was proposed as a way to define the runway with flat panels.
The Navy then switched from amorphous panels that are durable to crystalline panels with a 3-degree tilt, the National Park Service said. The panels would be placed 18 inches above the ground and cover 1.2 million square feet of the 300-by-4,000-foot runway.
The array, designed to generate 11 megawattsmore than twice the output of the original designwould be surrounded by a 7-foot-high fence and include 7-foot-tall power inverters on concrete pads, the park service said.
"The project the Navy is currently proposing is not the balanced preservation and renewable energy project that consulting parties were presented with in 2009," David Louter, chief of the cultural resources program for the park service's Pacific West Region, said Wednesday in a letter to the Navy.
Covering 28 acres with 60,000 photovoltaic panels surrounded by black 7-foot fencing would convert "hallowed ground" into an "industrial project," the aviation museum said.
"It's kind of hard to point out where Amelia Earhart ground-looped her airplane when you are looking at the runway and you've got to look through a (7-foot fence)," DeHoff said.
The Navy has since 1999 pursued aggressive redevelopment on Ford Island, whose hangar windows still are pocked with bullet holes from the 1941 attack.
A total of 231 new homes, a new Navy lodge, a 30-acre National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration campus and other additions have come to Ford Island, but preservationists have always drawn the line when it came to the airfield.