On Hawaii Island, WWII-era munitions clean-up work begins with a ‘right of entry’

The hidden hazards have made building and buying homes there nearly impossible for hundreds of Hawaiian homeland beneficiaries.
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 7:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some eight decades after the military battered parts of the Big Island with grenades, mortars, and bombs, thousands of WWII-era munitions remain scattered across several West Hawaii communities — all with the potential to maim or kill.

A government clean-up of the 100,000-acre Waikoloa Maneuver Area is still decades from being complete and the hidden hazards have made building and buying homes in the area nearly impossible for hundreds of Hawaiian homeland beneficiaries.

But there is something the military says could expedite the clean-up process.

Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers says a lot of it comes down to access. Crews can’t examine the land for explosives without permission.

“This is called the Apex.” said Stephen Brown, Army Corps hydrogeologic contractor pointing at a large piece of equipment mounted on four wheels.

Think of it like a high-tech metal detector that can locate, map and in some cases identify metallic objects in the ground. It’s the most advanced of several technologies contractors hired by the federal government are using to detect bombs and other hidden hazard left behind from military training

Over the years, four people have been killed within the 100,000-acre site that spans from the beaches at popular Waikoloa resorts east to Waimea and beyond.


Surveying the land is meticulous work — done one step at a time.

“We do it as you would plowing a field,” Brown said.

But before technicians can begin, there needs to be written consent from the property owner.

That’s also known as a “right of entry.”

“It gives us documented permission to allow access,” said Army Corps of Engineers Program Manager David Griffin. “Our concern is if someone calls police and says I’ve got trespassers on my property. If we have documented permission to be there, all we have to do is say, we have a right of entry.”

The paperwork is sent through the US mail.

Officials say it needs to be signed and returned as quickly as possible.

“Turning around that right of entry quickly sort of moves you to the front of the line. We can start to build on our field investigation,” Griffin said. “If we don’t get a right of entry for a critical piece where we really need data, that delays the whole process. It delays it for their neighbors.”

This latest clean-up has dragged on 20 years already. Of the 22 sites, only three have been thoroughly inspected. That’s a little more than 10% of the entire maneuver area.

Once the paperwork is signed Griffin said, “We go in. We scan the property. If we feel we found an anomaly that we need to investigate we evacuate that family for the afternoon to a safe location.”

It’s a situation that might be more common than you think.

In fact, officials say over the years it’s happened 13 times.

Griffin said, “We conduct our work and then we tell them it’s safe to come back to their home.”

Typically, the right of entry allows contractors access for five years.

“It doesn’t give us unlimited access,” said Griffin.

“We don’t park vehicles for an extended period of time. Our contractors are very respectful. They know that you are allowing us to come on your property.”

Griffin says if you don’t want the Army Corps of Engineers on your property, that’s your choice. He says just know all liability is transferred to the property owner.