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Leaders voice concern
about Pohakuloa area

HILO — Hawaii political leaders are
calling for prompt action following
the discovery of depleted uranium at
Pohakuloa Training Area last week.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said the
discovery of the material is very disturbing,
and that he will pressure the
Army to take care of the situation.
"I am very concerned about any possible
exposure our service members
may have to DU," Akaka told Stephens
Media. "I will continue to work with
the Army to mitigate potential harmful
effects that may be caused by the
presence of DU, and I will continue to
monitor this situation."
Akaka said he is pleased the Army
is working with state and county
authorities and conducting tests of its
training areas.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said he
hopes the federal government will treat
the depleted uranium as a high priority
and that any health effects from the
substance will be eliminated.
"It's out there in the open and that's a
positive thing," Kim said. "We'll watch it
carefully. This is our home, and no one
wants to see any harmful contaminants
to the land or people."
Calls to U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and
Division of Land and Natural Resources
interim chairwoman Laura Thielen
were not returned. Calls for comment
at the governor's office were referred to
State Adjutant Gen. Robert Lee.
State Rep. Josh Green, D-Kona,
sponsored a bill last year to fund testing
for depleted uranium, but the measure
died in finance committee. The
issue had been one of intense interest
to Green's constituents, who are downwind
of the mountainous area where
the training ground is located.
"This could impact our health, our
children's health and the image of
Hawaii if we don't deal with it immediately
and openly," Green said.
Green has received numerous calls
and e-mails from residents following
the Army's release of the survey findings
"The hope now is that DU did not
contact people," Green said. "Now that
we know it's there, thorough testing is
Green, who by profession is an emergency
room doctor, said depleted uranium
contains very low levels of radiation
but poses a real danger as a heavy metal
that can leach into water supplies or be
inhaled in dust. He urged the
Army to work transparently with
the state Department of Health
and citizen leaders in addressing
the potential danger and to
be forthcoming with answers to
outstanding questions, such as
the extent of the contamination,
where it was located and what
will be done to clean it up.
"It's a contaminant; it's totally
unnatural. We have to be super
careful," he said. "As a heavy
metal, it can contribute to major
health issues. And we have to be
aware of the possibility that DU
was connected to the Gulf War
The Gulf War Syndrome is
the name given for an abnormally
high level of immune system
disorders, chronic fatigue,
memory problems, cancer,
birth defects and other maladies
among veterans of the 1991
Persian Gulf War.
"We can't afford question
marks," Green said.
Bret Yager can be reached at


In the midst of court decisions
that could change the course for
the Hawaii Superferry, people
who toured the vessel Saturday in
Kawaihae voiced
support that may
influence its future.
Despite opposition
to introducing
the ferry prior to a
full environmental
impact statement,
several of the nearly
1,700 Hawaii Island
residents and visitors
who came to see the ferry said
they anxiously await its arrival.
Between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.,
a crowd diverse in age, race and
years of residency previewed the
vessel, tested seats and commented
on comfort and design. They
complimented in particular the
Superferry's ability to carry vehicles
and its spaciousness. Hawi resident
Clark Kucera said the ferry "gave
new meaning to road trips on the
When asked about concerns over
environmental impacts of the ferry,
most talked about the extent of
these effects.
"I don't know why they are so concerned,"
said Myles Oga, who was
born and raised in Hawaii. "You're
always going to get pros and cons.
Life got to go on." He and wife
Lucille said military vessels seem
to pose a greater environmental
danger, and existing marine vessels
already threaten the environment.
Some acknowledged both environmental
concerns and efforts to
address them.
"It seems to me the company
has proposed to do things to
alleviate impacts, and I hope
they follow through," Hawaii
Island resident John Sevick said.
Like a handful of other people,
Sevick said he has friends who
oppose the ferry system.
Gretchen Geisler, a recent
mainland transplant, said
her friends were concerned
over a perceived lack of communication
between Hawaii
Superferry and the community.
Nevertheless, she and her husband
look forward to using the
The state Supreme Court on
Thursday announced its unanimous
decision to reverse a lower
court's decision and require the
Hawaii Superferry to complete
a disclosure of its environmental
impacts. A final opinion and
response from the Circuit Court
on Maui are pending.
In response to how the
court's decision might affect
plans, Terry O'Halloran, Hawaii
Superferry director of business
development, said, "We're starting
service tomorrow. We will
be connecting the islands of
Oahu and Maui."
More than 19,000 seats were
sold as of the first 10 hours
of the Web site opening after
the announcement of a $5 fare
special, officials said. The first
round trip voyage to Maui was
sold out in 30 minutes.
Though ongoing reductions
in airfares have made ferry fares
($44 to $62 for adults) less
competitive, O'Halloran said
the Superferry offers alternative
travel that does not necessarily
compete with airlines.
"We provide convenience for
sports teams, school groups and
other group travel that can't
be found on airlines," he said.
"We're really different and in
a lot of ways (the ferries and
airlines) will complement each
other. We serve different markets."
The start date for service
to Hawaii Island is expected
sometime in 2009, but no date
has been set. In addition to the
group market, the ferry is also
expected to service small businesses,
especially in agriculture.
For this reason, O'Halloran said
the Big Island is a "very important
component to the statewide
The vessel's Hawaii Island
open house, which registered
1,665 attendees, was the fifth
event in the state. About 16,000
people in total attended open
houses on Oahu, Maui and
The 350-foot long Alakai,
the Superferry's first vessel, can
accommodate 866 passengers
and up to 282 subcompact cars
with an anticipated average
load of about 400 passengers
and 110 vehicles of mixed sizes
including motorcycles, cars,
trucks and buses per trip.
For more information: www.


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