The Marine Corps has extended the comment period on its proposed plans for basing new drone and tanker planes at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

It will now take comments until Sept. 21 on a plan that has generated controversy over the possible demolition of historic hangars that were attacked during the Japanese navy’s attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Marines argue the aging facilities are unable to meet the current demands of modern aircraft, but local historical preservation groups have expressed opposition to the plan. The Historic Hawai ‘i Foundation is among those that have come out against the current version of the Marine Corps plan.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the group referred to a post on its website outlining its concerns.

“(These) are anchor buildings in the Aviation Historic District and part of the setting of the Naval Air Station Kaneohe National Historic Landmark,“ statement on the group’s website said. “HHF is in active consultation with the agencies about alternative locations, designs and potential modifications to the proposal to minimize the adverse effect on the historic resources, archaeological sites and Native Hawaiian burials in the area.”

The Kailua Neighborhood Board’s Planning, Zoning and Environment Committee raised concerns about historical preservation and asserted that the Marines had provided insufficient data on environmental impacts as well as potential noise from the new aircraft.

In a two-page motion with bullet-pointed concerns about the assessment, the committee called upon the Marine Corps to craft a formal environmental impact statement, arguing that “the proposed Project is a major Federal action, which will significantly affect the quality of the natural and human environment and therefore requires the preparation of an EIS under (the National Environmental Protection Act).”

Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the National Park Service’s Pearl Harbor National Memorial, blasted the Marine Corps for choosing “expediency over history.”

“I’ve been over in those hangars. I’ve been there with the Medal of Honor recipient John Finn and stood there with him, and as he told the story, showed me the bomb strikes on the tarmac that is still there and the bullets that glanced off of the ramp,“ Martinez said. “That’s a piece of history. That’s a moment in American history. That’s a moment in the 20th century that defined America.”

Finn was a Navy sailor stationed at what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Dec. 7, 1941. When Japanese planes attacked the base, he fired back using a machine gun on the ground. Though Pearl Harbor was the main target of the attack, Japanese planes also attacked NAS Kaneohe Bay, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield and Marine Corps Air Station Ewa.

“This was the attack on Oahu. So often we get focused on Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor is like the generic term for Dec. 7th, 1941,“ said Martinez. “These sites are sacred sites, they’re sacred ground.”

But present-day troops and commanders have complained about the challenges of the small base’s aging facilities, most of which weren’t designed for modern equipment. The Marine Corps is reorganizing its entire force, beginning with troops at MCBH, with an emphasis on operations in the Pacific at a time when tensions are once again high in the region.

China is in a series of maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors over disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. The standoff has militarized the waterway through which more than one-third of all international trade travels.

Relations between the U.S. and China are at a low point. In August, Beijing broke off all military and climate talks with the U.S. in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-governing Taiwan, which China views as a separatist region that Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to bring under Beijing’s control.

But Martinez said present concerns don’t negate the need for historical preservation.

“If you have military traditions, then you have a military past — and the military past resides right there, on those aprons on the seaplane ramps within those hangars. And that consideration should be above all something that’s talked about,“ Martinez said.

(c)2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

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