Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Solar farm planned on Ewa Field's runways

A proposal for the deteriorating WWII site puts the Navy at odds with a historian

By William Cole


A developer plans to build a 5.91-megawatt solar farm at the crisscross runway intersection of Ewa Field, a key Dec. 7, 1941, Marine Corps battlefield that lies forgotten among weeds and kiawe trees in Kalaeloa.

Ford Island Ventures, part of Texas-based Hunt Cos., said the Navy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended moving the photovoltaic farm to the runways from another proposed location on the Navy-owned land.

"They have a proposed similar (photovoltaic) plan on the runway at Ford Island," said Craig McGinnis, vice president of the Hunt Development Group. "They feel that it's a positive way to define some of these old runways that are completely indiscernible because they are so overgrown."

Ewa Beach historian John Bond, who for several years has fought for preservation of a portion of Ewa Field, said the historic runways are the wrong place for a solar farm.

"I'm not against photovoltaics, but I don't think it should be on the (Ewa Field) battlefield runways," Bond said.

The disagreement is the latest between Bond and the Navy pitting historic preservation against multimillion-dollar development plans.

Ewa Field should be preserved in a way "that you will be able to sense being at the 1941 battlefield," Bond said. Putting a solar collection system on the runways "would be like putting photovoltaics on Civil War battlefields," he said. "It wouldn't look appropriate being on Bull Run or Manassas."

A public "informational meeting" on the Kalaeloa Renewable Energy Park plan will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Hale Ponoi Building at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands office at 91-5420 Kapolei Parkway.

Topics will include a history of Kalaeloa land conveyances to Ford Island Ventures, federal historic and environmental requirements for the land, and an overview of the energy park plan.

Scatec Solar North America and Hunt ELP are partnering on the solar farm, which would use 20 acres of land. McGinnis declined to provide a cost estimate. A 5-megawatt array would provide enough power for up to 5,000 homes, the Navy said.

The Ewa Field plan would include 21,120 angled photovoltaic panels set on precast concrete ballasts that wouldn't penetrate the ground. A 6-foot chain-link fence would be placed around the facility.

The electricity would be sold to Hawaiian Electric Co. through a long‐term power purchase agreement.

McGinnis said the energy park would use low-profile photovoltaic panels, which would provide a degree of protection for the already deteriorated airfield. He also said the use is in accordance with the Kalaeloa Master Plan.

In 2009 the Navy leased 499 acres of former Barbers Point Naval Air Station land to Ford Island Ventures. Ewa Field, whose formal name was Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, was absorbed in 1952 into Barbers Point, which has separate runways.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Ewa Field in three waves, and four Marines were killed. There were nearly 50 aircraft on the ground at the time, and most were damaged or destroyed.

Two U.S. Army pilots mounted a valiant defense over Ewa Field. Second Lts. George Welch and Kenneth Taylor took off from Haleiwa Field in P-40 fighters, and each shot down Japanese planes over the Marine Corps airfield.

The Navy previously said four to five acres at the center of the old runways were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2008 the state Historic Preservation Division, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation told the Navy it needed to do more to research and preserve the history of Ewa Field.

As requested by the Navy, Ford Island Ventures subsequently commissioned a "Battlefield Evaluation of Ewa Field."

The 119-page report, completed by AECOM of Charlottesville, Va., and Mason Architects in Honolulu and released in March, said it appeared that Ewa Field's battlefield integrity "had not been comprehensively addressed to date."

Navy history focused on Pearl Harbor; the Marines focused on Wake Island's defense; and Ewa Field "fell between the cracks in the broader story of Dec. 7, 1941, despite its importance as one of the places that were part of this significant event," the report states.

The survey also found that Ewa Field retains "minimal integrity" as a battlefield site. Many features are no longer present. Gone are buildings, tents and other features that were part of the camp that was under construction in December 1941.

Surviving from the attack are an aircraft warm-up platform, parking apron, a hangar foundation, swimming pool and runways that are in a "ruinous state."

Seventy-five concrete aircraft revetments and some other remaining structures were built during the war.

Ford Island Ventures had previously looked at land near — but not on — the Ewa Field runways for the solar farm that Bond said would be a preferable location.

The Navy and National Trust for Historic Preservation suggested the runway intersection instead, McGinnis said.

"It was recommended that it be moved there so that it could delineate, visually delineate, the runways and protect the remaining asphalt that is there," he said.

Bond has a different vision: an Ewa Field memorial park.

"I would like to see the entire runways preserved with (an adjacent concrete) ramp so that the 1941 battlefield story can be told," Bond said.

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