The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission has approved a $2.9 million dollar budget for the coming fiscal year. But the money is coming from a trust fund that's quickly running dry.
Kahoolawe had been used for military exercises for more than 50 years. A $44 million trust fund was established when the federal government returned the island to the state, with the money going to the clean unexploded ordnance from the island, and for the commission's work.
"Manage the island, to continue the restoration work on the island, to bring people to Kahoolawe to experience Kahoolawe," said commission executive director Michael Naho'opi'i. "We feel this (budget) is as low as we can go and still accomplish all those tasks."
The commission has never received funding from the state and has been surviving off the trust fund and grants all this time. But the fund will be down to $1 million by 2016.
The former "Target Island" is seen as a special place by Native Hawaiians. "Kahoolawe provides a really unique opportunity for people to get out of the day-to-day life and experience nature as our ancestors did and immerse ourselves in that spiritual life force," said Davianna McGregor of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana.
McGregor expects a Native Hawaiian sovereign entity to take over the island sometime in the next 12 years. How would they fund the island's operations? One idea is to get the state to fund the building of energy generating plants to power the island. "They could invest in trying to get a combination of wind and solar power for the island, to make the island self-sustaining," said McGregor.
But at least one person with ties to Kahoolawe wants to take that idea even further. Derek "Kekaulike" Mar believes that wind and solar power can be generated on Kahoolawe and then sold to other parts of the state to create a revenue stream for the island.
"That's a lot of plants that can go in the ground," said Mar. "That's a lot of schoolchildren that we can sponsor and come to Kahoolawe. That's a lot of UXO (unexploded ordnance) techs that we can hire to make it a cleaner place. That's just one possibility."
But it's also a possibility that brings questions. "How does building those wind towers of windmills going to affect the natural beauty, the cultural beauty, and the natural resources of the island?" said Mar. "There needs to be a dialogue about that kind of balance."
There also would have to be a change in state law, which currently prohibits commercial activity on Kahoolawe. However, different possibilities are up for discussion before the trust fund runs out.