The Navy's latest report on the environmental impact of its practice bombing on an uninhabited Hawaiian island has been shot down in a cross-fire of public criticism.
For more than three decades the military has dropped uncounted tons of ordnance on Kaho'olawe but since the early 1970s Navy officials have come under growing pressure to stop the bombing, clean up the island and return it to the public.
Hearings began April 10 on a court-ordered draft supplement to a 1972 environmental impact statement. The hearings will end this Tuesday, but Navy officials already are conceding that the draft is inadequate and will have to undergo "revisions that are not minor" before it is submitted to the National Environmental Protection Agency.
Essentially the Navy has gotten stuck in a thicket of demands from three fronts. One is a loose coalition of native Hawaiians who set the bombing as a symbol of the continued eradication of their indigenous Polynesian culture.
Another is the environmental lobby, which has marshalled virtually every piece of major environmental legislation adopted in recent years to use against the bombing.
And on the third front is the state legislature, whose opposition has somewhat taken the Navy aback in this basically pro-military state. Resolutions from the state House and Senate last year called for Kaho'olawe's return to public use and an ad hoc House group released a year-long study just before the start of the present hearings to press the issue.
"The ad hoc committee's major finding is that the Navy has not presented sufficient data to uphold their claim to the entire island of Kaho'olawe for military use," said the report.
Citing the Navy's earlier abandonment of Culevbra at Puerto Rico as a practice bombing site after insisting it was necessary to maintain readiness.. the Hawaii legislators accused the navy of appearing "contradictory in its positions."
The lawmakers are trying to get a toehold on Kaho'olawe by advocating immediate joint use for "hunting, fishing and religious ceremonial use." About 11 miles long and six miles wide, the 28,777-acre island is the smallest of the eight major islands in the Hawaiian chain, sitting just seven miles southwest of the bustling island of Maui.
The legislators also want to expand an archeological investigation, started with the Navy's cooperation and money, which has turned up more than 50 sites on Kahoi'olawe so far that may qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Federal Judge Dick Yin Wong, who ordered the Navy last year to prepare the present environmental impact draft supplement, in a suit brought by the Hawaiian coalition, also has ordered the navy to ask the Secretary of the Interior for "an opinion respecting the entire island's eligibilty for inclusion in the National Register."
Eligibility of a site would require the Navy to develop "mitigating measures," such as placing it off limits from bombing or excavating and physically removing it from the island.
Eligibility of the entire island could allow continued bombing in some parts but with other well-defined areas of the island denied to the navy's use. The Navy has voluntarily refrained from bombing several of the sites uncovered so far.
Despite constant bombing and shelling of the island which began in 1941, archeologists have found extensive remains of habitation sites dating from before the days of Captain James Cook's arrival in 1778.
". . . the degree of preservation is greater on this island than on any other since urban and agricultural development has seriously depleted the archeological resources elsewhere," the diggers have reported.
The Native Hawaiian coalition accuses the Navy of practicing "cultural imperialism" with its continued bombing and shelling missions. Said Hawaiian spokeswoman, Haunani Trask at a recent hearing, "if you must bomb, why not do it on your own historic sites, such as the washington monument or Mount Vernon or Plymouth Rock?
The coalition has protested the bombing in recent years by rowing out to the island and "occupying" it until the Navy came out and removed the demonstrators, lodging federal trepassing charges.
In its 1972 statement the Navy said there was no evidence to indicate the presence of any endangered plants or animals, and said the bombing had little TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE .
Environmentalists are now calling for a complete survey of Kaho'olawe's plant life, noting that 893 of 1,700 species on the federal list of endangered plants occur in Hawaii and that more may be found on the target island. They also note that the endangered humpback whale breathes and spawns in waters adjacent to kaho'olawe and may be adversely affected by the bombing.
Last week Navy officers were asked at a hearing why the supplemental impact statement failed to mention the cultural and aesthetic effects of the bombing.
Said a hearing officer," That certainly would not be the Navy's position today. As to why these effects were omitted from the supplemental statement, it's through these hearings that such awareness develops. The bombings do have an impact on the cultural aspect of Kaho'olawe."