State’s highest court hears challenge to live-fire training on Big Island ceded lands

Updated: May. 16, 2019 at 6:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a case that echoes the battle to stop bombing of Kahoolawe, the state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over the Army’s live-fire training at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.

Two residents allege the state failed to protect ceded lands.

Since 1964, the state has leased 22,900 acres at the Pohakuloa Training Area to the U.S. Army as part of a 65-year agreement.

But Hawaiian cultural practitioners Clarence Ku Ching and Mary Maxine Kahaulelio sued the Department of Land and Natural Resources and got a Circuit Court judge to order the state to do more to protect lands from destruction by getting the Army to clean up unexploded ordnance.

"It's still military. It's still bombing. What can I say what they do. Enough is enough," said Kahaulelio.

The state's own inspection in 2014 found the ceded lands with explosive hazards and significant military debris.

“There are internal memos from 2011 and 2013 that DLNR acknowledged there’s a likelihood or possibility of unexploded ordnance on public trust ceded land yet the department did nothing. It never wrote a letter asking the Army can you clean things up,” said David Kimo Frankel, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

But the state filed an appeal to the high court saying the Army should determine if there were any contract violations and that the United States should have been a party in the case.

“The DLNR and officials considered the U.S. to be in compliance with the lease so in order for plaintiffs to show it was incorrect, they have to allege and show it was wrong,” said Ewan Rayner, deputy solicitor general.

At the hearing, the plaintiffs and their attorneys talked about the destruction at Kahoolawe. They hope Pohakuloa avoids a similar fate.

"We know all the problems of Kahoolawe including they will never completely clean up the aina," said Ching.

The justices did not indicate when they’d rule on the case.

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