It looks like the agency in charge of protecting and restoring Kahoolawe is all but bankrupt. Around for about 21 years now, the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) was tasked to get the island of Kaho’olawe–largely wrecked by decades of U.S. Navy bombing and test detonations–back into some sort of sustainable shape. While KIRC and other volunteer organizations have done great work planting native flora and other ecological work, their money has slowly dwindled away.
“The Kahoʻolawe island reserve commission is funded predominantly by a dwindling trust fund created in 1994 during the federal cleanup of unexploded ordnance on Kahoʻolawe,” states the text of the new bill HB 438. “Although it was a considerable amount, the federal appropriation totaling approximately $44,000,000 over a period of several years was not substantial enough to establish a sustainable endowment for the long-term restoration of Kahoʻolawe.”
To make sure the KIRC doesn’t go away, the state Legislature is considering SB 867, SB 897 and HB 438, all of which would in some way appropriate funds for the KIRC. HB 438 would appropriate $6 million to the KIRC in fiscal year 2015-2016 and another $6 million the following year, while HB 897 just appropriates $6 million in 2017-2017. Senate Bill 867 is different–it earmarks 7.5 percent of the state conveyance tax to the Kaho’olawe rehabilitation trust fund.
On Feb. 5, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa’s office sent over a copy of his recent testimony in favor of all three bills. Here’s an excerpt of it:
“I was able to travel to Kahoolawe last month to view the incredible work that the KIRC does every day–its Restoration Program planting native shrubs and grasses to minimize erosion and restore native ecosystems, its Ocean Program monitoring marine species and the Island Reserve’s pristine waters, its Culture Program preserving archaeological sites and promoting traditional Hawaiian practices, and its Operational staff providing all kinds of logistical and maintenance support to these program efforts. The KIRC’s annual budget is less than $3 million; they manage and are steadily restoring an entire island reserve–a former bombing range with 45 square miles of land and 90 square miles of ocean–for less than $3 million per year; this has to be one of the most efficient government agencies in the state.”
You know, it wasn’t that long ago that KIRC officials were talking up some pretty grand plans for the island. Back in the summer of 2008, I sat down with KIRC Executive Director Michael Naho’opi’i at the KIRC’s office in Wailuku. He told me KIRC’s plan was to be “self-sufficient” within five years (that would have been 2013). He also showed me plans for an elaborate two-story center in Kihei near the Boat Ramp that would be shaped like an octopus. It would have offices, an auditorium, museum and other features.
“We want to be able to bring Kaho’olawe to Maui,” he told me, though he admitted that he had no idea how much the proposed center would cost.
Click here for our October 2014 story on how a new photo exhibit on Kaho’olawe was highlighting some of the island’s problems.
Photo of Mayor Alan & Ann Arakawa listening to Paul Higashino at the highest point on Kaho’olawe (Pu’u Moaulanui) courtesy County of Maui