Meeting set in Waikoloa Village to discuss search, disposal of UXO in surrounding areas

  • A worker searches for unexploded ordnance makai of Mamalahoa Highway near the Old Saddle Road entrance in 2015. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The red line on this map denotes the project site boundary for UXO removal. The yellow line indicates the 450-foot buffer around the high priority parcel. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

KAILUA-KONA — Some Waikoloa Village residents will be forced to evacuate their homes over a period of multiple days in September as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hunts for unexploded ordnance in neighborhoods around the village.

USACE-Honolulu District has announced it will hold an informational meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Thursday at the Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School Cafeteria to discuss the issue. All interested members of the public are welcome to attend.

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In a release earlier this month, the organization said it would comb a portion of the former Waikoloa Maneuver Area (WMA) for artillery projectiles, rockets and mortars, among other unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Beyond neighborhoods in Waikoloa Village, the WMA parcel set for inspection includes Ke Kumu Ekahi, Ke Kumu Elua and Ke Kumu Ekolu. The land represents one portion of one section of the WMA, which covers more than 123,000 acres on Hawaii Island.

Work, which will begin Sept. 4, will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is only between those hours that the affected population must depart from impacted areas. USACE expects investigations to be completed by Sept. 7, however, that deadline could be extended to Sept. 14 depending on the number of UXO investigators find.

“We’re trying to shrink the evacuation zone on a daily basis,” said Loren Zulick, project manager with USACE. “Only some people will be affected by this all four days, if it lasts four days, and others will have more and more access as the work progresses.”

The U.S. Marine Corps fired explosives at the WMA during wartime training in the 1940s, but several never detonated. According to the release, investigators have discovered multiple UXO in adjacent areas during past sweeps.

As of 2017, USACE had detected more than 100 different types of munitions clearing more than 2,400 pieces of UXO from nearly 30,000 acres of the WMA.

Considering the area’s size and the annual budget for remediation of the land, which was $10 million per year as of 2016, the cost to clear the entire WMA is estimated at more than $700 million and is expected to span at least the next seven decades.

Those numbers come from a December 2016 forum, at which representatives from the state and USACE, among other organizations, offered presentations.

Investigators will employ metal detectors and excavation equipment in their search. If investigators detect UXO, they follow a particular protocol.

“We always detonate them, that’s how we mitigate the ordnance,” Zulick explained. “Sometimes they’re moved and sometimes they’re detonated in place.”

Because investigators aren’t always precisely sure of what ordnance they’ve detected, the evacuation zone is large enough to account for the blast radius of any ordnance in a worst case scenario.

USACE has already contacted those who are affected by the evacuation, both through mailings and door-to-door contact, Zulick said.

Deaths due to UXO have been documented in the WMA, but Walter Nagai, of the USACE, said at the forum in 2016 that he was unaware of any having occurred after 1954. Still, both Zulick and the USACE release reiterated the need for public caution concerning the process.

“Please make members of your family and friends aware of the upcoming operation and caution them to avoid approaching the UXO teams and interrupting their work,” the release read. “If you discover an item that you think might be UXO, do not touch the item and immediately call the County of Hawaii Police Department at 911 or 935-3311.”

Anyone with questions is invited to attend the public meeting or to contact any of the following people at the following numbers:

• Loren Zulick (project manager): U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (808) 835-4305

• Steven Jones (ordnance and explosives safety specialist): U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (808) 835-4016

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• Joshua Byrd (ordnance and explosives safety specialist): U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (808) 835-4099

• Paul Chong: State Department of Health (808) 586-4256

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