The U.S. Marines will not increase its helicopter training in Kalaupapa following opposition to the plan from the National Park Service, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and local residents.
But plans for the military to build a fuel depot at Molokai Airport are still being considered despite protests by locals.
A report in yesterday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser said that the Marines wanted to significantly increase the number of takeoffs and landings at the remote airport in Kalaupapa. The Marines’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement proposed 1,388 takeoffs and landings to prepare to bring MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey and Huey attack-utility helicopter squadrons to Hawaii. The Marines agreed to keep that number at 112.
Stephen Prokop, superintendent for the NPS at Kalaupapa expressed concern for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal population. About seven monk seal pups are born at Kalaupapa each year. He also discussed the overall impact this activity could have.
“The Marines’ environmental impact statement draft that they shared was strongly opposed by the park service for a place as special and scared to the history and people of Hawaii as Kalaupapa is,” Prokop said. “Most importantly, the lifestyle and privacy of the patient community at Kalaupapa would have been severely impacted.”
For many of the same reasons, the DLNR also expressed its opposition to increasing the use of Osprey helicopters at Kalaupapa.
Local activist and OHA candidate Walter Ritte has spoken against military presence on Molokai. Ritte and Lori Buchanan, a member of the Molokai Planning Commission and head of the Molokai Invasive Species Committee, organized a protest against the fuel depot at the airport. They constructed an ahu (stone altar) at the location of the proposed fuel depot, calling the site “kapu” (forbidden).
“Molokai’s pretty quiet compared to Oahu, so this is a big deal for us,” said Ritte.
“It’s a statement that we have cultural significance there, that they cannot disregard what the people have been telling them,” Buchanan said. “We represent people who do not want any military presence on Molokai.”