By: Trustee Rowena Akana
Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA
Why does the U.S. Pacific Command want to expand its facilities at Bellows Air Force Station? Precisely because it’s time to return Bellows to Hawaiians — and the military doesn’t want to.
Bellows occupies 1,495 acres of Windward O’ahu, of which 1,457 acres are ceded lands held in trust for Hawai’i’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. Recently, the U.S. Pacific Command decided to “develop a comprehensive Hawaii Military Land Use Master Plan.” Begun a year ago, this effort worked to “evaluate land requirements to meet mission tasks from the perspective of all military services and the civilian community.” The result? Build now or give it up.
Today, activity at Bellows consists largely of rest and relaxation for the military at cottages and recreation facilities on the oceanfront spread. The land also houses an Air Force communications station and is a training site for occasional Marine Corps amphibious beach assaults.
Hawai’i Congressman Neil Abercrombie, who sits on the military installations and facilities committee, has pushed the government to make Bellows available for Hawaii housing needs. “The military is not supposed to make up reasons to keep land when there is no overriding national interest,” Abercrombie said in May, 1992. “That has been established — so the land comes back to the state, that’s it.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t it. Through this master plan, the U.S. Pacific Command has re-invented the military’s overriding national interest in Bellows — housing. The military recently finished a round of public hearings to assess the environmental impact of a swarm of new military housing on Bellows land. The military got an earful from Waimanalo and Kailua residents who complained that the move was particularly galling since Hawaiians are desperate for housing. Bellows is ceded land, and for years the military has done nothing with this beachfront property.
When the governor of Hawai’i first explored the possibility of Bellows’ return to the state, the Department of Defense turned down the request. In a 1958 letter, the Secretary of the Interior emphasized the need for military recreational facilities, noting that 312 acres used for R&R was “some of the most attractive beach land on the island of O’ahu.”
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).
Since then, the military has made no serious attempt to defend the recreation facility as a necessary military activity and has admitted the communications link could be easily relocated. The Marine Corps’ small unit exercises could continue on a permit basis as they do on other state lands. However, hoarding land for no other reason other than it’s pretty to look at seems a bit foolish when compared to the dire needs in the Hawaiian community for housing.
So what has the military done? Created a dire need for housing of its own.
The Admission Act of 1959 and the Conveyance Procedures Act of 1963 require ceded lands to be returned when no longer needed for federal purposes. Hawaiians are entitled to revenue from ceded lands, and failure to move on the reversion of Bellows denies Hawaii’s original inhabitants their rightful benefits.