Army detonates World War II bomb in Makua, protects petroglyph

Schofield Barracks, Hawaii (AP) 12-07

Taking extraordinary measures to shield an ancient petroglyph, the Army during early December detonated several unexploded munitions on its Makua Military Reservation.

“There was a big boom,” said Dennis Drake, a spokesman for the Army garrison in Hawaii. “A very loud explosion occurred when they set it off.”

A major highway and the beach area near the site were closed for about two hours.

The explosives were discovered during November in an operation to clear safe access to the reservation for Native Hawaii cultural observances. The access had been arranged in negotiations with a group that had sued against munitions testing on Hawaii’s most populous island.

A contractor had swept the testing area to ensure the safety of roads and trails leading to cultural sites, including rock alters and petroglyphs. The operation was also intended to open up areas where access had not been allowed.

Three unexploded devices were found in the sweep, including a fused World War II-era bomb, a 106 mm round and an 81 mm round, leading to closure of the reservation, which is used for live-fire training exercises.

Thousands of sandbags were placed around the cultural sites and the detonation zone for the bomb, including a sandbag wall protecting a petroglyph of a human figure.

During November, two dozen people protested the Army’s refusal to allow them into Makua Valley for an annual Hawaiian celebration of peace. Attorney David Henkin of EarthJustice, which represents the community group Malama Makua, says the Army should have acted faster after the bomb was discovered Nov. 1 so the Makahiki celebration wouldn’t have been interrupted.

The Army says it obtained an expedited review of plans for the detonation, waiving a standard 30-day consultation process.

The detonation plan, which involved several federal, state and local agencies, required dousing nearby vegetation with water and the use of helicopters to coordinate security and fire control.

A two-day cleanup period is required before the range can be reopened, Drake said.

“The Army is fully committed to providing cultural access under the 2001 Settlement Agreement, in compliance with applicable safety and range regulations, and it is already in consultation with community groups to reschedule cultural visits and a Makahiki celebration, which were postponed due to safety reasons following the munitions discovery,” an Army news release said.