By Trustee Rowena Akana
Source Ka Wai Ola O OHA
As the federal government debates whether to demilitarize Barbers Point, it continues to harbor another base far less important but far more valuable — Bellows Air Force Station.
Bellows occupies 1,493.15 acres of Windward Oahu, of which 1,456.93 acres is ceded lands held in trust for Hawaii’s inhabitants. The station’s current estimated value is more than $88 million. On the open market, the Bellows land could be worth several hundred million dollars more. As a Hawaiian-managed and planned community, the land value would be priceless for so many with so few housing options.
The time has come to make Bellows available for Hawaiians’ housing needs.
Bellows, unlike much of Hawaiian Home Lands, is a fairly large parcel of land resplendent with utilities, roads and water in place. The state has zoned the land for 5,000 single family units and an equal amount of agricultural plots. Rentals are less expensive than most of Honolulu and houses sell for half the average single family home prices, added to which most of the area is flat, on or near the beach and only two miles from Kailua.
As early as 1966, the federal government realized it did not really need the Windward land base. The Director of the Bureau of the Budget determined “… that the [Bellows] property hereinafter described is no longer needed by the United States …” (Deed dated July 25, 1966, P. 2)
Since then, the military has made no serious attempts to defend the recreation facility as a necessary military activity and has admitted the communications facility could be easily relocated. The Marine Corps small unit exercises, if ever all that vital, could continue on a permit basis as they do on other state lands. Hoarding land for no other reason than its pretty to look at seems a bit foolish when compared to the dire needs in the Hawaiian community for housing.
Aside from the operational specifics, there remains the more fundamental question: to whom does the land belong? The Bellows property, formerly public lands of the Kingdom, then the Republic, then the Territory of Hawaii, was subsequently commandeered by the president for the War Department in 1917 and 1928, and last used as an airfield during World War II.
The Admissions Act of 1959 and the Conveyance Procedures Act of 1963 require ceded lands be returned when no longer needed for federal purposes. Hawaiians are entitled to revenues from ceded lands, and failure to move on the reversion of Bellows denies Hawaii’s original inhabitants their rightful benefits. In any event, the military states a weak case for federal retention and the people of Hawaii have a strong, legitimate claim on the property.
And Hawaii already employs in its place a state agency to manage revenues from the ceded lands trust for the betterment of Hawaiians, an agency mandated to promote a body responsible to the needs of the indigenous community — a Hawaiian government.
A Hawaiian government, with a vested interest in the indigenous community, would do right by its people and prepare Bellows for a high-quality, low-cost master-planned community. Conveyances could be issued, orders given, documents signed, rules written and procedures installed to transfer control of the Bellows land to OHA or its constitutional successor which would contract to redesign and rebuild the land and its properties.
And perhaps in a short decade or two, a smartly planned, quality community would be ready to house and possibly employ several thousand Hawaiians.
Since the legislature still debates a Hawaiian ConCon, OHA remains the only existing agency that could kick-start the legislative process, hire the contractors, secure the proper papers and ensure the affordable Hawaiian housing is really housing Hawaiians can afford.
OHA has done more for the Hawaiian community than any other government agency, and is the only existing entity with the means to accomplish such a task.
But given the chance, a Hawaiian government certainly could do no worse than its predecessors with a ceded parcel of land. The military doesn’t need it, the state can’t handle it, so perhaps its time for a Hawaiian government to manage it.