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Kalaupapa Munitions Clean-Up Plan Proposed

kalaupapaThough Kalaupapa is historically known as a place of exile for Hansen’s disease patients, the peninsula was also used as a bombing range during World War II. As with other Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDs) across the country, ongoing efforts to locate and remove unexploded ordnance — or bombs that never detonated — have begun. After completing a remedial investigation and feasibility study, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has proposed a plan to clean up the area.

The former Makanalua Bombing Range, a 937-acre region on the northwest side of the Kalaupapa peninsula, was used by the U.S. Army for military bombing, rockets and gunnery practice from 1941 to 1946. The USACE, Native Hawaiian Veterans – a company that provides services relating to security, emergency management and explosives  — and a munitions response company called USA Environmental and others are spearheading a clean-up effort. Representatives met with the Molokai community to discuss their investigation and the proposed plan last week.

Bradford McCowan, the Worldwide Environmental Remediation Services (WERS) program manager with USA Environmental, said a preliminary assessment in 1999 revealed the presence of three to five-pound practice bombs in the area. A site inspection mandated by Congress and completed in 2008 determined the area needed to be investigated further after finding munitions that needed to be properly disposed of, he said. As a result, a six-week remedial investigation and feasibility study was conducted in February and March of 2013.

During the six weeks, crews removed munitions from the Makanalua Bombing Range. All explosives were evaluated and, if necessary, safely detonated by explosives experts. Both archeologists and biologists accompanied the teams to ensure natural and cultural resources were not disturbed.

“We used instruments to find the distribution of bombs,” McCowan said. “We found Mark-23 practice bombs, used by dive bombers in World War II …we didn’t find any high explosives bombs.”

According to McCowan, the remedial investigation recommended further action for munitions and explosives found in the target site of 235 acres of land, which is open to the public. The feasibility study used the data collected during the investigation and developed seven alternatives on how to clean up the FUD site. The seven alternatives were discussed internally with the agencies and one was chosen for remedial action. This proposed alternative must be discussed and accepted by the community. The community has 30 days to comment and decide on the proposed plan, McCowan said.

The proposed plan, Alternative Four, is the surface removal of munitionsound above ground, on trails and roads and 25 feet around them in the high density area of the site. The high density area is 38 acres and where a majority of munitions are located within the target site. Alternative Four will cost $4,860,865 and is funded by the Department of Defense, McCowan said.

By law, USACE andUSA Environmental are required to visit the site to assess the area every five years. According to McCowan, the five-year review program will continue to monitor cleanup progress on the site.  When the 30 days for the community to submit comments on the proposed plan has finished, a decision document, or official record of the decision, will be created by the USAEC.  This could take one year. Once the decision document is signed, a plan will be made to complete the first review, five years later, McCowan said.

The five-year review could trigger future clean-ups to make sure the site is safe, said Lori Wong, USACE project manager. This process will continue until the site is clean.

The goal of the proposed plan is to reduce potential explosive safety hazards to site visitors and Kalaupapa National Historical Park staff and preserve the historical character and spiritual heritage of the park, McCowan said.

“These trails are the ones most heavily used and where the public is likely to traverse in the target site,” Wong said. “If [the presence of munitions] changes we’ll come back sooner and revisit it.”

Molokai activist and meeting attendee Walter Ritte said he is concerned for the munitions found and the Army’s obligation to protect the public.

“There’s a lot of politics concerning these types of things,” Ritte said. “I’m worried because there’s history to this place, and as a Hawaiian that’s where my ancestors lived, and our goal is to have our ancestors live there again. I want them to clean-up that rubbish to the cleanest possible.”

Lori Buchanan, field and outreach coordinator with Molokai Maui Invasive Species Committee (MoMISC), said she agrees. She said she wants to see more community involvement and other FUDs on Molokai addressed.

“My concern spreads to Ilio Point on the west end, another bombing site, Kaluakoi [Villas] and Papohaku [Beach],” Buchanan said. “I want to see research and a clean-up project there.”

The USACE and USA Environmental representatives emphasized safety for those living near former bombing ranges. They advise residents use the three R’s if they find unexploded ordnance: recognize, retreat and report to the police. Explosives technicians will inspect them and if necessary, remove and detonate them safely.

“…You should comment on [Alternative Four] and tell us why you agree or disagree,” Wong said. “We are trying to reach out to the public as much as we can…because we need to make sure the public is aware of what we’re doing.”

You can find the site inspection, remedial investigation and feasibility study at the Molokai Public Library. Contact Lori Wong at 835-4090 to submit comments.


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