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Hawaii judge orders UXO cleanup plan for Army training range on Big Island

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment hike up a hill to dig fighting holes at the Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii Island, Oct. 31, 2017.

ISABELO TABANGUIL/U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 4, 2018

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — A Hawaii judge has ordered state officials to submit a plan within eight months for monitoring and inspecting ordnance cleanup at the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii Island.

The plaintiffs in the case said the Army had breached its lease obligations by not cleaning up unexploded ordnance at PTA.

The 100,000-acre training area is one of the few the military has available for land-based live-fire drills in the Pacific. The military leases about 23,000 acres of state land as part of the training area. That lease, which began in 1964 for a total price of $1, expires in 2029.

The local activist group Malu ‘Aina is urging the state to not renew the lease for that 23,000 acres.

Hawaii has numerous sites contaminated with ordnance dating to World War II and the Cold War.

The Army began a $3.5 million project Monday to search for unexploded ordnance off Makua Beach in northwest Oahu. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers says it will cost $723 million to clean up a former Navy artillery range in northwest Hawaii Island.

The Pohakuloa Training Area lawsuit was filed four years ago by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation on behalf of two Hawaiian residents, naming as defendants the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the two entities that administer state lands.

The 1964 lease required the federal government to “make every reasonable effort to … remove or deactivate all live or blank ammunition upon completion of a training exercise or prior to entry by the said public, whichever is sooner.”

A trial in the case concluded in October 2015, and Judge Gary Chang issued the long-awaited decision Tuesday.

He based his decision in part on the broadly understood native Hawaiian concept of “malama ‘aina,” meaning the act of caring for land.

“Defendants have failed to preserve and protect the Subject Lands as required by their duties as a trustee of the public land trust,” Chang wrote. “Defendants have failed to malama ‘aina the Subject Lands under the Said Lease. These failures constitute a breach of Defendants’ trust duties that apply to the Subject Lands. This failure has harmed, impaired, diminished, or otherwise adversely affected Plaintiffs’ cultural interests in the Subject Lands.”

The Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a statement Tuesday saying that as “the landlord of this land,” the agency will work with the tenant, the Army, to “develop a formal inspection, monitoring and reporting process.”

However, the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General is reviewing the court order to determine whether to appeal it, the statement said.

A plan must be submitted to the court by Dec. 28. The submission must include a written stewardship plan and procedures for dealing with violations.

Chang’s decision also bars the state from renewing or altering the lease to the military “without first determining (in writing) that the terms of the existing lease have been satisfactorily fulfilled.”

A PTA spokesman referred all questions to Army Garrison-Hawaii at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, which declined to comment.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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