Second danger zone awaits decision

LIHUE — A month-long comment period related to the Navy’s proposal for an expanded danger zone in the waters fronting the Pacific Missile Range Facility generated six online comments — all in opposition.

Koloa resident Kevin Houck described the proposal as “another example of the absolutely atrocious encroachment and abuse of federal privilege upon the denizens of West Kauai.”

“The Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 205A Coastal Zone Management, dictates specific protections regarding the public access right to coastal areas,” he wrote. “The habitual irresponsibility of the various federal government agencies that continually deny public access to the right of use of the Mana shoreline is once again evident.”

The public comment period closed July 31.

In addition to the six comments posted on the Federal Register website, two letters and one email were submitted directly to the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency appointed by Congress to act as the administrator, according to PMRF Public Affairs Officer Stefan Alford.

“The two letters and one email were neither for or against but seeking more information,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

If approved, the danger zone fronting PMRF would roughly triple in size, encompass about 7 miles of coastline — from Barking Sands to Kokole Point — and extend between 2.96 and 4.19 nautical miles out to sea.

While the proposal changes the dimensions of the current danger zone — which has been in place since the 1960s — it does not change PMRF’s policy regarding access, according to Alford.

“PMRF beaches will continue to be accessible to the public, except on rare occasions when an area has to be briefly closed for launches,” he wrote. “Most of our neighbors understand this and we appreciate their aloha as we work together to maximize access while preserving public safety.”

Currently, PMRF’s danger zone is situated near the base’s northern launch pad. The expansion is “necessary to include planned launches from a southern pad as part of the University of Hawaii and NASA’s Super Strypi project,” according to a July 1 release.

Super Strypi, or SPARK (Space-borne Payload Assist Rocket — Kauai), is a new rocket design capable of carrying small satellites into orbit.

If approved, the larger zone would only be closed to the public during range operations (including the new joint UH commercial micro-satellite launches), test and training activities, and force protection conditions that are determined to pose a hazard to the general public, according to Alford.

“In addition, only those sections that might pose a hazard would be closed and not the entire shoreline,” he wrote. “North and south beach boundary walk-in access is expected to continue to exceed 300 days per year.”

In his comment, Kekaha resident Randy Wolfshagen wrote he was against the change, as there have not been any problems during launches thus far.

“(Department of Land and Natural Resources and Kauai Police Department) have done a fine job of handling the public’s safety,” he wrote. “The buffer zones are big enough. Again, there has never been an instance where a larger zone would have affected public safety. There is no need for any changes to the status quo.”

Gene Barkin of Waimea wrote that the area is a natural treasure — the longest uninterrupted stretch of white sand beach in the country.

“While all of us respect the need for safety and security vis-a-vis PMRF, there is no evidence to support the need for rendering this wonderful natural resource off limits to the public,” he wrote.

E. Dunbar of Lihue wrote that the proposal fails to include any references to cultural impacts and disturbances, and ignores consequences to livelihoods.

“Who have you officially invited consultation with in the Native Hawaiian community?” he asked. “It is an undisputed fact that the world’s resources are being depleted faster than population growth. Combine that with the military’s destruction and resource depletion is expedited. This is a ‘taking’ on a very large scale.”

All public comments have been forwarded to PMRF Commanding Officer Capt. Bruce Hay for review and response, according to Alford.

“Issues and responses will be evaluated for recommendation by the Honolulu District Commander to (Headquarters U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) to approve or disapprove the request for expansion of the danger zone,” Alford wrote. “HQ USACE is the final authority for approval/disapproval of modified danger zones and rulemaking.”

It is unclear when a final decision will be made.

The PMRF proposal was introduced two months after the Hawaii Army National Guard announced a separate but similar proposal for an expanded danger zone in the waters fronting the shooting range in Kekaha. The Guard later withdrew the proposal following a series of articles published in The Garden Island.

Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, director of public affairs for the Hawaii National Guard, said at the time that the expansion proposal was the result of a mistake by a project manager, and would have encompassed “an area larger than is required by federal regulation.”

The Guard has not yet resubmitted its proposal for a smaller danger zone surrounding the Kekaha Rifle Range.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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