A Hawaiian island used as a military bombing range for nearly 50 years is now facing more problems with cuts in funding for restoration efforts.
Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill to give money to the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, which is tasked with restoring the island. The bill would have originally asked for $600,000, but the amount was left blank in more recent drafts.
The commission was funded predominantly by a dwindling trust fund created in 1994 during the federal cleanup of unexploded ordnance, according to the bill. But as the fund is running out, budget cuts have forced layoffs and pay cuts for the entire staff.
“We knew money was going to be gone,” said Michael Nahoopii, executive director of the commission. “We had a choice — either shut it all down, or keep it all going.”
It takes a little less than $3 million to run the island each year, but the commission was only given $1 million to operate for each year in 2016 and 2017, Nahoopii said. The bill would fund operating the vessel needed to travel to the island, and restore some pay cuts and layoffs, he said.
Kahoolawe has a long history of military use dating back to 1925 when the U.S. Army first used it for military exercises. In World War II, the U.S. Navy started using the 45 square miles of Kahoolawe as a bombing range, which lasted for nearly 50 years.
Control of the island was given back to the state of Hawaii following legal disputes and fights to protect Kahoolawe’s Native Hawaiian cultural sites. In 1994, the U.S. Navy was given 10 years to remove explosives and restore the island. But 10 years later, the job still wasn’t finished.
Now, about 75 percent of the island’s surface has been cleared of ordnance, but the rest is considered dangerous, with unexploded ordnance.
Rep. Ryan Yamane, who introduced the funding bill, said the island’s more than 3,000 archaeological sites could be used as an educational center to help perpetuate Native Hawaiian culture.
But Kahoolawe, which is still littered with unexploded ordnance and bullets, faces other devastating ecological problems. Before the military took over the island, its native plant life was ravaged by decades of cattle and goat ranching, and it has few fresh water sources, Yamane said.
If restoration efforts succeed, the island could be an example of how it’s possible to replenish water sources and regrow native plants, Yamane said.
“The island is totally devastated,” he said. “This would be a perfect a perfect example of how healing can happen.”