Ammo debris found during bombing site investigation

KIHEI – No unexploded ordnance, discarded military weapons or ammunition were found during a 2011 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigation of Kanahena Point, a former military bombing site on Maui’s south shore that is now located in a natural area reserve.

But what officials found were approximately 200 pounds of munitions debris scrap – the majority on the makai side of Makena-Keoneoio Road that runs through the reserve – that included projectile fragments, lead shrapnel, fuse fragments, mortar fins, expended smoke grenades and small-arms debris, according to officials and contractors discussing the investigation results at an Army Corps of Engineers informational meeting Thursday night at Lokelani Intermediate School in Kihei.

The Army Corps is working toward a plan on what to do with the former military bombing site located in the state’s Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, where earlier studies uncovered military items including two 155-millimeter shrapnel projectiles, a 6-inch Navy projectile, .50-caliber bullets and casings, projectile parts and fragments, fuse parts, lead shrapnel and mortar fins. The Army Corps said the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife also has reported finding unexploded ordnance items in the onshore area of the reserve as well as in one of the anchialine ponds.

The Army Corps will use the information from the investigation done from September to November 2011 to put together a feasibility study, which will evaluate alternatives and other factors to find the most suitable solution for cleaning up the area.

Army Corps officials said the proposed plan for the area will be available for public review in the late spring of 2014.

The remedial investigative portion alone, which is ongoing, is estimated to cost $2 million.

The 20 people, the majority of whom where government officials, at the meeting were told that it is difficult to estimate the total project cost because alternatives have still not been determined. The work is being done under the Military Munitions Response Program initiative of the Department of Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites.

Because of the ongoing study, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife is holding off implementing portions of its management plan for the reserve, said Scott Fretz, Maui District manager for DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife Division.

He said after the meeting that areas of the reserve that could contain most of the danger and ordnance remain closed. Other areas of the reserve remain open for the public.

More than several years ago, the state closed off portions of the reserve to help protect it from overuse and abuse by visitors.

“We want it cleaned up,” Fretz said. “It’s a public reserve.”

The reserve was established in 1972 and contains 1,238 acres on land and 807 acres offshore. The U.S. military used an area known as Kanahena Point for bombing practice from early 1945 until the end of World War II in the summer of the same year.

During the study, the majority of munitions debris was located on the shoreline side of Makena-Keoneoio Road, with limited material found to the north, the Army Corps said.

The Army Corps said the area makai of Makena-Keoneoio Road is of concern because of previous discoveries of unexploded ordnance and impact craters. No munitions debris were found on land and no munitions debris were found offshore, the Army Corps said.

The Army Corps and its contractors had crews using hand-held metal detectors, underwater cameras and remotely operated underwater vehicles for the study. Swimmers used snorkel and scuba gear to search the reserve waters and kept away from coral, officials said.

Project Manager Lori Wong of the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ Honolulu District acknowledged that the area surveyed in 2011 was only 1 percent of the entire reserve. She said outside the meeting that the recent investigation was a “sampling” of the reserve. She said if officials found something of concern they would go back in and perform further investigations.

Officials at the meeting cautioned that although unexploded ordnance or discarded military weapons and ammunition were not found in the latest investigation that doesn’t mean they are not present. They encouraged the public to keep an eye out for anything that looks like ordnance.

They said to practice the three Rs:

* “Recognize” that military items can be dangerous.

* “Retreat” by not touching the item and moving away from the area.

* “Report” the item by calling 911.

Wong said she recognized that to the public the investigation may have seemed like it took a long time. However, she said there were numerous pieces of information to organize, study and plot.

She said the Army Corps now will be receiving input from various stakeholders in the process, including the DLNR.

Information on the project can be found at the Kahului Library. Those who have questions about the formerly used defense sites program may call the Army Corps Honolulu District Public Affairs Office at (808) 835-4002. For technical questions, call (808) 835-4090.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at