May 3, 2009
Air Force plan to add rec cabins at Hawaii beach stirs concern
Some residents against 48 new military structures, say ceded land is involved
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Writer
A plan to build 48 new vacation cabins at Bellows Air Force Station has stunned many Waimanalo residents who oppose the project and have called for the return of military property that is no longer used for defense purposes.
The community learned of the project at an April 13 Waimanalo Neighborhood Board meeting. Board members said they do not want any expansion of the base’s recreational programs.
“What they’re trying to do is turn it into a vacation resort for the military,” said Wilson Ho, chairman of the neighborhood board. “We don’t want any more building.”
With the dwindling use of the base’s 1,483 acres for military purpose, Ho said it’s time to give the land back to the public.
Both the Air Force and the Marines use the base. The Marines train there and Air Force operations are primarily recreational, including about four dozen duplex cabins and numerous camp sites. Some of the base is open for public camping on weekends.
“If they had it for training, if they had it for real military use, fine,” Ho said. “They said they use it for training but the training these days are not amphibious. It’s not rushing the land. It’s a whole different technology. So we just wanted to make sure the land wasn’t built up for fun for the military.”
In the past, the Marines have used Bellows for amphibious landings.
Philip Breeze, Air Force spokesman, said the Air Force is not turning the area into a resort and plans to locate the new cabins on developed land next to existing cabins.
“While we are certainly sensitive to people’s desire regarding the land, we also have an obligation to provide recreation opportunities for our war fighters when they return from defending the nation,” he said.
Air Force funding
The Air Force has funding for 16 cabins and hopes to eventually build 48. The cabins will be 600 square feet to 750 square feet and paid for through money earned from the various activities on the base, Breeze said.
The Air Force will be respectful of any remains or artifacts that may be uncovered during construction, he said.
At the April 13 meeting, the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board was told the cabin project passed an environmental assessment and public comments were due April 30. The lack of advance warning left the board little time to respond, Ho said. The Air Force has since extended the comment period to May 30.
“The reason why we don’t want (the new construction) is because it’s on ceded land,” Ho said.
Ceded land is the roughly 1.2 million acres of Hawai’i property that once belonged to Hawaiian royalty and now is in dispute. The land was taken by the United States after Hawai’i was annexed and ceded back to Hawai’i during statehood for public benefits, including the betterment of Native Hawaiians. The land is now being used for various activities including for schools, businesses and airports.
A 1996 Record of Decision called for the return of 170 acres of Bellows’ land along its southern boundary. That never happened and residents fear that if the military keeps expanding its recreational facility, the community will never get that land back, said Andrew Jamila Jr., who serves on the Restoration Advisory Board for Bellows.
“We’re passionately opposing (the cabins) because as you know, Bellows was at the center of ceded land that was promised back to us,” Jamila said.
In the early 2000s, the state was negotiating with the military for the return of the property. But few people were privy to the process and the neighborhood board never learned why the land was not returned, he said.
With this recent announcement of the $5 million project, the board is once again asking what happened.
“We told them in the past, we don’t want you guys to be building nothing more,” Jamila said. “Bellows Beach doesn’t belong to the Air Force or the Marines is what we feel. It belongs to the Native Hawaiian.”
Breeze said he understands the Native Hawaiians’ concern with the land but the cabins are not near the 170-acre parcel that had been considered for return to public use.
“I don’t know that that issue comes into play with this particular situation,” he said.
Hawaiian Home Lands apparently turned down the property during the previous administration, said Lloyd Yonenaka, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands spokesman.
Yonenaka said it appears that some of the easements that were on the land in the late 1990s would have restricted its use and there were concerns about contamination.
However, Micah Kane, DHHL director, has said he would be interested in discussing the issue with the federal government again, according to Yonenaka.
“If the feds were willing to open it up again, he would be willing to discuss, negotiate the transfer,” Yonenaka said.
The U.S. General Services Administration did negotiate with the state for the property but the encumbrances required by the Marines made it unattractive to the state, said Gene Gibson, GSA spokeswoman.
“It primarily prevented whoever took the land from building any structures or doing anything that would get in the way of the Marines using the property for amphibious training and air drops,” Gibson said, adding that without the ability to develop the land the state dropped out of the negotiations.
The land remains with the Air Force and the Marines are using it for training, she said.
Sen. Clayton Hee, who has called for the return of unused military land before, said the military should return excess land including golf courses that could be leased back to the military for its use.
“If, as anticipated, the Akaka bill becomes law, the bill will mandate reconciliation. … It just makes sense that surplus military lands would be at the top of the list because then nobody else gets hurt to the extent that you’re taking away private property,” said Hee, D-23rd (Kane’ohe, Kahuku).
A draft environmental assessment and a draft Finding of No Significant Impact have been filed on the project. Copies of the drafts are available at the Waimanalo and Kailua libraries, the Hawai’i State Library and Hickam AFB Library.