BARKING SANDS — The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility will not be expanding outward towards Kekaha or Polihale, said Capt. Robert J. Connelly, commanding officer.
Among the rumors circulating on the Westside is one that PMRF would expand and consume a portion of Polihale State Park, something Connelly vehemently denied.
The Navy will utilize space within the existing base footprint to further expand its operations, he said.
“The base confines will not expand” into other areas, said Connelly.
To assuage the fears of the public, who have picked up on a rumor about expansion into the Polihale area, he added that Navy officials have contacted state officials, informing them that Navy officials wish the area surrounding the base continue to be zoned for agricultural use in order to provide a buffer against “encroachment.”
Connelly explained that many military bases on the Mainland are suffering from “encroachment,” where the general public has moved into homes in areas surrounding military bases.
This has curtailed the way some bases can operate, including when and where missiles may be launched. Since PMRF is miles away from the nearest town, it is easier for Navy and civilian employees to clear the public into a safe area when a missile is to be launched.
Connelly also laid out the present and future of PMRF in an interview with The Garden Island here Wednesday.
The PMRF is primarily a “train-and-test” facility, he said. Because of its location, it is the only base in the world to offer simultaneous training and testing in the four areas of combat: undersea, land, air and space.
“Virtually every day, Monday to Friday, there is some kind of training” occurring at the base. Most of it, he said, is submarine training, involving a vast array of hydrophones on the sea floor.
They are so sensitive that they can pinpoint the exact location of a whale within the hydrophone network thousands of miles away.
In the future, joint missions between the armed services branches will be more likely, he continued. For example, army personnel from O‘ahu were witnessed setting up camp for some training missions this week.
PMRF will also be instrumental in the implementation of the Ballistic Missile Defense, the umbrella of anti-missile protection over the United States and its allies. PMRF will be involved in the testing and implementation of two parts of BMD: the Navy’s Aegis system, and the Army’s Theater High Altitude Area Defense, Connelly said.
These programs will bring money into Kaua‘i in a variety of ways, Connelly said. First, military and U.S. Department of Defense staff stay at Kaua‘i hotels, shop in stores and eat at local restaurants. For each missile test, 300 testing personnel are flown over, and if there are two tests per year, the extra 600 visitors will bring in a projected $5.5 million to the Kaua‘i economy, according to PMRF statistics.
Secondly, the added activity will create more high-tech, high-paying jobs to the local community. Connelly stressed that the focus is on local recruitment through programs such as “kama‘aina come home,” which targets those who were raised in the islands.
“We want to create a culture that will help us, ‘a culture of high-tech,’ as Senator Inouye calls it,” he said.
“We are a major player in the economy of Kaua‘i,” said Connelly.
While the Kekaha community accepts PMRF’s role in the community, it believes that more can be done to expand beach access.
“We’re all about security of the base, said Bruce Pleas, a Kekaha resident. But fishermen are the “most-ripped-off group of people here.”
The base contains the best fishing grounds on the island, said Evelyn Olores, who works at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center. And while Major’s Bay is open to the public, the fishing there is not very good.
“We’re just going to stay out until” the fishing grounds are open, she said. Fishermen “will go through the proper authority. We don’t make a big stink about it.”
“People out there, the civilians, are our Kekaha ‘ohana. We understand the need for high security,” she added.
However, fishing is one of Kaua‘i’s best-loved past-times. And while it is good that the base is closed so that the fish have been replenished, Olores hopes that a compromise can be made in the future to at least get fishermen out to Nohili ditch, and Kinikini once a month.
The fishermen are quiet. “They’ll go through the proper authority,” she said. “It’s the plantation way of living. If the boss says ‘no,’ then they’ll do something else.”
She added that local fishermen have met with state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau, about some kind of compromise. “I know how risky it is,” she said.
The philosophy behind the closing of the 7 1/2 mile stretch of beach fronting PMRF is “buffer, sort, and respond,” Connelly said. Security at the base uses the beach as a buffer to keep people without authorized badges off the base, he said. The badges allow security personnel to keep people at risk away from the base, and the small area of beach open allows security to respond quickly in an emergency, he said.
He added that the fact that the public is allowed base access at all is a rarity. “Let me know if you can find a base that allows more access than us,” Connelly said.
Hooser said that he, too, met with Connelly on Wednesday. Connelly was “working on ways to expand the public use” of the base, Hooser said.
It appears that Major’s Bay will be open seven days a week in the future, Hooser said.
Next, Hooser said Connelly will be “scheduling a public meeting or meetings in the near future to explain the proposed expansion of the public’s usage at Major’s Bay, and get community input.
“I thought it was good news,” said Hooser.
And, he said Connelly would be “looking into possibly expanding some fishing access along the Westside,” Hooser said.
“I want to thank the base for being open and willing to work with the community,” Hooser said. “I acknowledge the reality that security issues take precedence” over recreation.
“This is a good, positive step in the right direction,” he said.
Staff Writer Tom Finnegan may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 226).