Military Has No Excuse to Continue Bellows Operations

By: Trustee Rowena Akana
May, 1994

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.

Give Back Bellows

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Star Bulletin: Viewpoint, May 6, 1993

The commander of Hawaii’s second-largest industry recently said he would ask a Marine brigade be pulled out of Kaneohe if he lost the use of the land at Bellows.

Honolulu’s other daily paper spent five Sunday pages fretting over his threat. Really, is Bellows all that vital to the military? Or, for that matter, is the military all that vital to Hawaii?

Adm. Charles Larson broke decades of virtual military silence to counter claims made by Rep. Abercrombie, myself and others that Bellows belongs and should return to the Hawaiian community. Our kind of talk, he implies, might trigger decisions that would damage the islands’ economy.

“Frankly, without an amphibious training site, the Marines (and I) would be hard-pressed to justify their continued presence at Kaneohe — especially since other states that do offer adequate training are [eager] to beef up and protect their own bases,” the admiral wrote.

He means Camp Pendelton, Calif. where the land, resources and residents presumably are more accommodating. The 8,900-member 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade could go there for its amphibious assaults and inland maneuvers, but then the admiral and his Marines couldn’t rest and recreate all over Windward Oahu.

Larson rationalized that the Bellows station “helps satisfy a major morale and welfare requirement.” Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) at Kaneohe MCAS already provides the Marines with barbers, BayFests, Beach Bashes, bowling, child care, dining, disco, golf, karaoke, pool tables, private surfing, sailing, scuba diving, shopping, swimming, tailors, a theatre and weight rooms to name a few subsidized perks. Does it also really need a l,500-acre, $88 million playground?

Yes, the admiral would say, and don’t you forget the Marines contribute substantially to the local economy. His assumption, the media’s foregone conclusion, should be scrutinized.

Since the armed services pay almost no property taxes for bases here, contributing to the local economy means leaving base and paying local prices. To avoid this “severe financial hardship” (the admiral’s words), MWR strives to provide all the on-base dining, shopping and playing the military community will ever need — blunting any real financial contribution.

Whatever the military does pump into the local economy, no one bothered to estimate what it sucks out in natural resources (aquifer stores, energy consumption and prime ceded soil), federal taxes (22.5 % COLAs, subsidized off-base housing and commissary and exchange privileges) and aloha spirit (traffic congestion, school overcrowding, environmental pollution and criminal activity).

The military brass trumpets the many jobs Kaneohe MCAS offers the Windward community. Many of those jobs, however, are filled by military dependents and recent Mainland transplants. Logic dictates if the Marines go to Camp Pendelton, so do the jobs. With the Marines then go the dependents and with the jobs go the transplants, thus muting the cries of mass local unemployment.

There is no reason why Larson’s military pullout should cripple the Windward community. Islanders are not invalids, we do not need to be force-fed a military industry for an economy.

The state has already zoned the Bellows land for 5,000 single-family units and an equal number of agricultural plots. If Bellows returned to a sovereign Hawaiian nation, native Hawaiians could build a land base for a self-sufficient economy.

As a master-planned community, Bellows could include cottage industries, taro farms or any number of activities that would offer Hawaiians and other community members the opportunity to improve their lot well beyond military dependence. At the same time, human resource agencies could offer their life-support programs to other needy areas.

It is at our own expense Hawaii residents subsidize the military industry’s occupation of Hawaiian lands.

The admiral says the Marines might ship out if we don’t shape up.

Frankly, without enough affordable housing sites, Hawaiians would be hard-pressed to tolerate the Marines’ continued presence at Kaneohe — especially since native Hawaiians are eager to beef up and protect their own causes.

“I can assure you that your military cherishes our special relationship with the people of Hawaii,” Larson wrote. “In the past 20 years at least nine military sites have been conveyed to the state or sold.”

Perhaps. But admiral, do you know of the military’s special relationship with the indigenous people of Hawaii? Hawaiians never asked you to come, yet you came. Hawaiians never gave you Bellows, yet you took it. Hawaiians never wanted you to dominate the economy, yet now you threaten it.

Do us all a favor, give back Bellows. It’s not yours and you don’t need it.

We do.