Was Kalaeloa / Barbers Point land banked for possible military return?

The U.S. decision to disperse 9000 Marines from Okinawa to various locations around the Pacific, including 2700 to Hawaiʻi is generating much anxiety and opposition from affected communities as well as enthusiasm from some who hope to cash in on this bonanza.  As reported by William Cole of the Honolulu Star Adverstiser, some residents of the ʻEwa district have suggested turning the former Barber’s Point Naval Air Station site back into a base to house the Marines – “Kalaeloa suggested to house incoming Marines” (May 13, 2012):

No sooner had plans been confirmed for 2,500 or more Marines coming to Hawaii from Japan than Honolulu resident Dennis Egge suggested how to accommodate them.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the Navy moved its planes and personnel back to (Naval Air Station) Barbers Point?” Egge said. “Something important went missing from the Ewa Plain when our naval air squadrons moved from NAS Barbers Point to (Marine Corps Air Station) Kaneohe, leaving the Coast Guard to ‘hold down the fort.’

“Now, the Marines need extra space at MCAS Kaneohe to accommodate Marine Corps personnel and their families and equipment immigrating from Okinawa. Isn’t this a great opportunity for the Navy to return to NAS Barbers Point?”

And politicians seem to be supportive of the idea:

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, recently was asked at a town hall meeting in Ewa Beach if she would support Marine housing at Kalaeloa.

“Her response was yes, that sounds like something she would support,” said Hanabusa spokesman Richard Rapoza.

As Cole writes:

The Marines’ preference is to have most of its forces at Kaneohe Bay, but plans already in the works, including proposals for Navy P-8A Poseidon jets, Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and new attack, utility and heavy transport helicopters — adding up to a 49 percent increase in airfield use by 2018 — might make it impossible to base all the Marines there.

An official said Pearl City Peninsula, where SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 has a compound, is among multiple sites on Oahu that might be looked at to house some of the extra Marines.

The old Barbers Point is another.

Kalaeloa / Barbers Point was the only base in Hawaiʻi that was closed and returned under the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) process.   But unlike other closed bases where local communities strategically planned and successfully converted the former military facilities into civilian centers for economic development, civic entrepreneurial initiatives and social programs, the conversion of Barbers Point floundered:

Anthony Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which has oversight of the shuttered Barbers Point, said a new Marine Corps family housing project could really help revitalize the old base.

“If the military were to decide that Barbers Point is a good place to locate family housing, for instance, could they do that? Most certainly,” Ching said.

So-far unrealized hopes for major redevelopment of Barbers, closed as a military base in 1999, and the dilapidated state of a lot of the land and facilities since then, have left some West Oahu residents pining for the old well-kept military days.

An HCDA master plan for the 3,709-acre base, now called Kalaeloa, still calls for 6,350 homes, a 7,000-job business district and two rail transit stations, Ching said.

State officials previously estimated that $3.35 billion was needed to realize the plan, including $550 million to improve old roads, water utilities, electrical systems and other infrastructure.

An examination given to basing an aircraft carrier air wing at Kalaeloa — which put some redevelopment plans on hold — ended in 2007 with the Navy deciding to base the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego instead of Pearl Harbor.

Why did the base conversion fail so miserably in Hawaiʻi?   Other successful  base conversions had vision and political will behind it.  They engaged the local community in the planning process.  They created base conversion agencies that had actual planning, implementation and resource development authorities.   In the case of Barbers Point, the closed base was treated first as an unwanted orphan, transferred to an office that had no real authority to plan or redevelop the site. Then, the land was treated as if it were a beef carcass to be carved up with the choicest cuts going to well-connected interest groups or to settle political debts.   The result was a patchwork of different entities claiming turf, no one with the authority to move a plan forward, and deteriorating conditions at the actual site.

But was this just another example of government ineptitude?  Or was the conversion process left to fail by design?   If Barbers Point was successfully converted, it would have inspired people to demand conversion of other military sites.  This would not have been good for the military or those political and economic interests that directly benefit from the military economy.   But if it was neglected, eventually someone in the community would start “pining” for the military to return and restore order to the site.  In a way, the net effect of neglecting the base conversion has been to bank the land for possible future military needs.  Now that the Marines need more housing and facilities, the benefit of this strategy for the military interests become clear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *