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Hawaii News

Program fears closure with funding bill dead

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kahoolawe is littered with unexploded ordnance, including a shell inspected by Bart Maybee, a safety officer for the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, who got on his hands and knees to check whether the firing pin was still intact.
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WAILUKU, Hawaii » The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission is bracing for a shutdown because a funding bill didn’t survive the state Legislature’s lawmaking session that ended last week.

That would leave 17 commission employees without jobs, and decades of erosion control work will go unmaintained to the detriment of the marine environment, Chairwoman Michele Chou­teau Mc­Lean told the Maui News.

The commission conducts escorted trips to the island. McLean warns that without the commission, "people will probably trespass and could very well get seriously injured or killed" by unexploded ordnance left over from decades of military bombardment. "I can’t say what the (state) liability would be for that."

McLean, who is also deputy director of the Maui County Department of Planning, said she’s disappointed that the bill didn’t make it out of conference committee, even though lawmakers acknowledged funding needs to be found, but the hang-up stemmed from what the funding source should be.

One version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Mele Carroll (D, Lanai-Molokai-Paia-Hana), would have set aside 10 percent of the conveyance tax for the Kahoolawe fund, with a cap at $3.5 million per fiscal year. Funding would have been repealed starting June 30, 2020, or when a sovereign Native Hawaiian governing entity is recognized.

The commission currently draws most of its funding from a trust created in 1994 when the Navy transferred ownership of the island to the state and during the federal unexploded-ordnance cleanup of Kahoolawe. The trust fund is expected to run out of money in 2016.

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