Community voices opposition to ‘danger zone’
LIHUE — Once the shooting starts, all boaters, fishermen, surfers and beach users are prohibited from entering a restricted area of water fronting the Kekaha Rifle Range.
A one-mile area has been off limits for years during live target practice, according to Farley Watanabe with the Army Corps of Engineers.
But a recent proposal by the National Guard would officially designate a larger, six-mile wide section of the Pacific Ocean as a “danger zone.”
The Corps is the agency appointed by Congress to act as the administrator of the proposal, on behalf of the National Guard.
Rep. Dee Morikawa, who represents Kauai’s Westside, said she has concerns with the proposal and questioned why the guard would need such a large area when the range is restricted to short-range weapons.
“That’s kind of unreasonable,” she said, adding it would make more sense to build a higher barrier to prevent bullets from reaching the ocean.
Like Morikawa, local residents and businesses have begun voicing opposition to the amendment, which is necessary for the Hawaii Army National Guard to continue small arms training operations and protect the public.
As outlined in a May 9 public notice, danger zones are defined as “water areas used for target practice, bombing, rocket firing or other especially hazardous operations, normally for the armed forces.”
“Hazard protection for the public is necessary because of the potential for bullets fired at the range to enter the area offshore of the range,” according to the public notice.
As of Wednesday, six online comments had been submitted, all against the proposal.
If adopted, the Corps has said the zone would have little economic impact and no anticipated navigational hazard or interference with existing waterway traffic.
Geoff Wall, a boat captain at Kaua‘i Sea Tours, disagrees. He wrote that the proposal would “severely impact and disrupt one of the largest visitor industry businesses (Na Pali Coast tours) here on Kaua‘i.”
Wall pointed out that most tour businesses operate from Port Allen and would have to transit the proposed zone.
“The Kekaha Small Arms Range has operated all these years without one instance, to my knowledge, of a boat operator or passenger ever having been injured by small arms fire on the range,” he wrote. “If safety is the concern, it would be less economically disturbing to relocate the small arms range rather than disrupt Na Pali tour boat schedules carrying hundreds of visitors a day.”
Greg Holzman, a Westside fisherman and surfer, believes the danger zone would not actually make the area any safer. Rather, he said it would make it a crime to be in the area during weapons firing.
Holzman said he and other surfers have been at the surf spot known as Targets or Rifle Range when bullets have gone “whistling by.”
“It isn’t that it doesn’t happen,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen. They shouldn’t have a rifle range going out into a popular beach.”
In a December 2009 The Garden Island article, surfers reported hearing bullets whizzing past their heads and seeing ripples where the rounds entered the water.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Holzman questioned the overall safety of the range.
“My thought on this is it’s a perfect time to open up the dialogue on whether that range should even be there anymore,” he said.
According to the updated Memorandum of Agreement between the Board of Land and Natural Resources, Garden Isle Racing Association and the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, the National Guard originally obtained the 68-acre property for the Kekaha Firing Range in 1957.
Instead of moving people, Holzman recommends moving the range to a more suitable location.
“There’s this kind of draconian federal thing, let’s push the people out to solve our problems,” he said.
Holzman made it clear that he is not against guns or a shooting range.
“I think we would all like to see a better place to shoot than out to sea on a small, populated island in the middle of the longest white sand beach in Hawai‘i,” he said.
Watanabe said that while the arc of the proposed danger zone is six miles long, the distance straight out to sea from shore is about 2.5 miles, and narrows to a 0.7-mile wide section along the shoreline.
The current zone includes everything within one mile of the range.
While the off-limits area would change under the new proposal, Watanabe said the procedures for warning the public of scheduled firing will remain the same.
The only major change, he said, is there will be no use of the range at night.
“The hours are set,” he said.
Under the proposal, weapons firing at KRF could occur between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
When live firing is in progress, two large, red warning pennants will be flown at two highly visible locations on the shore. Weapons firing would be suspended as long as a vessel remained in the zone.
As is the case now, boaters would have complete access to the danger zone whenever firing is not scheduled. The new proposal does not indicate how frequent the range might be in use moving forward, but the public notice indicates it is used between six and eight days per month, for between six and eight hours per day.
In April, however, the Pacific Missile Range Facility’s Security Department conducted small arms training from April 9 through 30, from 1 to 9 p.m. daily.
In his online comment, Adam Roversi of Honolulu said additional access restrictions threatens to alienate the non-military public on Kaua‘i and asked the Corps to consider restricting training to three days a week.
“If, however, a closed danger zone needs to be created for the purpose of public safety, some of this animosity may be mitigated by officially restricting the days and times during which firing may be lawfully operated,” he wrote. “Surely, there is not such high demand for firing range use that the area needs to be available for possible training seven days a week for the entire day.”
Written comments on the proposal can be submitted online, by mail or by email through June 10. If approved, the danger zone would go into effect Aug. 9, 30 days after publication of the final notice.
To submit a comment or for more information visit http://www.regulations.gov, docket number COE-2013-0004.
• Chris D’Angelo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.