For The Record: Star-Advertiser Unexploded Ordnance

Posted on Mar 8, 2015 in Community News, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Homestead Services Division, Public Information, Public Notice

Hi Puni,

I’m interested in doing a story on the unexploded ordnance problem on some of the DHHL lands on Hawaii island. I know you have talked to or emailed one of our freelancers, Megan Moseley, about the situation in Makuu, but I’m taking a broader approach. (I’ve talked to Megan about her story, which is in the works, and when she turns it in, I will take a look at it to see how that might compliment what I’m working on).

I don’t have a specific deadline yet because I’m just starting to do my reporting. With that in mind and if you intend to post my questions on your web site, please don’t do so until my story is published. I will keep you posted on when that will be.

I have a copy of the Jan. 20 information memo that was prepared for the commission about this issue, and some of my questions relate to that memo.

If you can get responses to me by a week from tomorrow — by Tuesday, March 3 — I would appreciate it.

Here are my questions:

How many lessees potentially are affected by this issue, where are they located by areas and when did DHHL begin awarding leases in each of those areas? If I’m reading the memo correctly, there are 500-plus in Puukapu, Kuhio Village, Lalamilo and Kawaihae, plus another group — the memo doesn’t specify how many — in the Makuu area. When the story runs, I’d like to show in a graphic the DHHL areas affected by this issue, how many lessees are in each area and the year in which DHHL start issuing leases in each of those areas.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has identified portions of the following areas as formerly used defense sites (FUDS) utilized by the Department of Defense during World War II for training activities on the Island of Hawaii:

Location

No. of Affected Lessees

Year Began Issuing Leases

Kuhio Village

115

1952

Puukapu Agricultural and Pastoral Lots

323

1952

Lalamilo Residents Lots

30

2008

Kawaihae Residents Lots

4

1936

Makuu Farm Lots

124

1985

Regarding how the UXO problem may affect the lessees, what were the main points told to them in the early December letter (referenced in the memo) and at the community meetings? What was the main message to them? Also, please provide a copy of the Dec. 3 letter, although I’m not interested in the lessee name and address.

The former Waikoloa Maneuver Area (WMA) is well-known to the Big Island community as a whole since clean up work began over 10 years ago. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has conducted outreach and education to all the affected communities of Waimea, Kawaihae and Waikoloa Village, the December meetings were the first time the DHHL hosted such a meeting specifically for homesteaders. The Department’s Trust lands in the affected area are part of a larger story on the history of Hawaii and its use of land during World War II. Many of the currently impacted areas include state beach parks; county parks; luxury hotels; and private residences. The department is making every effort to assist in the provision of information. As a result, the meetings were held to inform, and update, the community about the presence of UXO on Hawaiian Home Lands. The meetings included presentations by staff from the USACE and the Department of Health (DOH).

The current administration first became aware of the issue of potential exposure to unexploded ordnance (UXOs) on Hawaiian Home Lands in October 2014 while conducting its due diligence for NAHASDA involving the processing of a simple home repair loan.

Upon noticing the “UXO” designation on county property tax records on a specific parcel, the department immediately initiated an inquiry with USACE to obtain more information about:

  • The UXO designation and what that designation meant for our beneficiaries
  • What impacts it could potentially pose to our beneficiaries, and
  • What can be done to remediate any potential threats or impacts

We have taken the time necessary since first identifying the potential impacts to our properties and the families that live and work on them to gain a better understanding of the possible size and scope of the exposure, and develop a plan of action for our beneficiary families.

Do the affected lessees mostly have residential, ag or pastoral leases? Do most have homes built on their parcels?

There are lessees with residential, ag and pastoral leases. Homes have been built on many of those parcels.

Is the possibility of relocation a likely one and, if so, on what kind of projected timetable?

The department is offering relocation as a possible option to affected lessees. The department is presently conducting its due diligence to identify available lands within our inventory, the types of infrastructure improvements that will be necessary and how the department can accommodate all lessees that are interested in relocating. The timetable will be contingent upon those factors. The department is expediting the process to provide our lessees as many options as possible, as quickly as possible.

How would DHHL handle possible relocations given that it doesn’t have sufficient lands to accommodate all those who might be affected?

The department is presently trying to assess lessees’ interest in relocation as a means of determining how many parcels it will need to prepare. A majority of lessees have already stated that they would prefer to remain on their homestead parcels rather than relocate.

The memo mentioned serious consequences with regard to DHHL’s ability to use funds from the Native Hawaiian Block Grant and 184-A on lands contaminated with UXO. Please elaborate. Has DHHL, for instance, been unable to expend some of those funds because of the UXO problem? If so, when did the funding problem first emerge and what have been the consequences to individual lessees? Also, what is the difference between the block grant money and the 184-A funds?

184-A funds provide a lending resource to DHHL beneficiaries on homestead lands. Both 184-A and NHHBG funds must comply with 24 CFR Part 58. West Hawaii Habitat for Humanity has a current NAHASDA contract to do home repairs on Hawaii Island. They had targeted Kuhio Village as a potential home repair area; however, since HUD’s instruction to the DHHL to stop using federal funding in these areas until a more permanent determination can be made on their “contamination” other funds are being used for the self help program. West Hawaii Habitat is in the process of identifying other homestead locations to use their NHHBG contract.

If the funding problem surfaced only relatively recently (such as within the past several years), why is that the case? Haven’t we known about the UXO issue for years?

The current administration first became aware of the issue of potential exposure to unexploded ordnance (UXOs) on Hawaiian Home Lands in October 2014 while conducting its due diligence for NAHASDA involving the processing of a simple home repair loan. At that time, HUD and DHHL met with USACE and DOH to determine the extent of the issue. The current administration was not aware that Trust lands were contaminated.

Military training exercises were conducted on the property during the World War II. The presence of unexploded ordnance has been documented by the military, however, it is unclear from our records what information, if any, was made available to the department at the time lands were transferred from the Territorial Commissioner of Public Land (CPL) to the department.

Here is what we know about the management and oversight of the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS):

  • During World War II, both the Makuu and Waikoloa Maneuver Area properties were already part of larger general leases issued to private parties by the Territorial Commissioner of Public Land (CPL); therefore, not under the control of the Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC).
  • Specific portions of the land were “recalled” from the CPL by the HHC when needed for homestead use and transferred back to the department. The HHC did not have the authority to manage its non-homestead land until 1965.
  • Between 1965 and 1985 the HHC had systematically “recalled” most Hawaiian home lands from the CPL (then DLNR) and created its own Land Management Division to manage these lands directly. The Kuhio Village subdivision was approved in 1952 and Makuu in 1985.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began community outreach to begin the ordnance remediation process in 2005 and completed clean up in Makuu in 2011 where the Corps continues long term monitoring of the site. Remediation of the Waikoloa Maneuver Area is ongoing.

What kind of projected timetable is the federal government providing to DHHL in terms of assessing the extent of the problem on DHHL lands and removing UXO?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed clean up of the “Popoki” target site in Makuu in 2011. The site is presently under long term management by the Army Corps.

The “Waikoloa Maneuver Area” is still in active remediation by the Army Corps. A request is currently being passed through the US Army chain of command to include the department’s Trust lands in Waimea.

Please provide a copy of the Nov. 24, 2014, EE/CA referenced in the memo and the responding letter that DHHL sent disagreeing with the low-risk designation.

Is the Makuu area also considered low risk by the federal government and, if so, does DHHL disagree with that assessment?

Remediation of the Makuu area was completed in 2011 and long term monitoring continues. However, ongoing mitigation efforts are necessary whenever ground disturbing activities occur.

Is the process to address the UXO issue further along for the Makuu lessees, compared with the other affected lessees on the Big Island? If so, why is that the case? Is the situation in that area considered higher risk?

Yes, the process in Makuu is further along than the “Waikoloa Maneuver Area.” As previously stated, an assessment and clean up of the “Popoki” target site in Makuu was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2011 with long term monitoring and management continuing. A risk assessment and clean up for the “Waikoloa Maneuver Area” is ongoing.

The department denied right of entry in 2002 Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis Report (EE/CA) to Lalamilo, Puukapu and Kawaihae. In the 2006 EE/CA, ROE was obtained in 2004-2005 and the USACE conducted transects through Puukapu’s pastoral acreage and no Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MEC)/Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) was found. However, because no scanning was done in the residential/agricultural areas, the DHHL is concerned.

In all the affected areas, didn’t DHHL have an analysis done on the suitability of using those lands for residential, ag or pastoral purposes before they were leased to beneficiaries? If so, why wasn’t the UXO issue identified long ago and addressed back then — or deemed too significant to place homesteaders on those lands? 

Back in the 1950s, the department and other government agencies believed the risk was minimal based on the limited information and technology they had at that time. When lands were conveyed to the department for the expressed purpose of homesteading native Hawaiians, no one suspected that the lands being given to meet the Territory’s, and subsequently the State’s, obligation to native Hawaiian beneficiaries would be lands contaminated with unexploded ordnance.

Did beneficiaries enter into leases without knowing that there may be problems with UXO? If so, were they only recently informed of the problem? 

The beneficiaries’ level of knowledge regarding the presence of unexploded ordnance was not widely known. That is why the department began efforts to learn more about the issue of unexploded ordnance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as soon as it became aware of the issue. Once the department understood the potential extent of the UXO contamination, it immediately began outreach efforts with the lessees residing in affected areas to educate them about what was learned from the Army Corps and to begin the discussion of possible options for lessees affected by the issue. As stated in her December letter to affected lessees, the Chairman has instructed DHHL staff to include UXO disclosure on leases.

I would welcome any other information that will help give a better understanding to our readers about the extent of the UXO problem in these DHHL communities and what is being done about it.

We cannot change decisions of the past, however, the department is committed to improving its service to native Hawaiians and doing what is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the native Hawaiian beneficiaries we serve. While we understand that our lessees are part of the bigger community of residents that comprise the former WMA, we are committed to working toward a safe resolution that other landowners currently enjoy thru their participation in the UXO mitigation process.

I will call tomorrow to follow up on this email and in case you have any questions.

As always, thanks for your help.

Aloha,

Rob