When William Aila was running for Hawaii governor in 2006, a Honolulu Advertiser profile led with his boast that he was the only candidate who had been held in contempt of court by a federal judge.

He was a board member of a Native Hawaiian organization that borrowed 83 priceless artifacts from Bishop Museum and never returned them, instead burying them in caves, the profile reported. As a member of another group, he opposed the presence of the Stryker Brigade in Hawaii and argued the sacred Makua Valley should not be subjected to Army training.

A little more than four years later, Aila’s now in a position — interim director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources — where he’s going to have to work with the military.

Early indications are that the relationship is one worth watching.

Last week, Aila chaired a meeting of the Board of Land and Natural Resources for the second time. The body, with Aila’s support, approved a Conservation District Use Application for a pair of plans submitted by the Army’s Natural Resource Program.

The Makua and Oahu Implementation plans will allow the Army to manage endangered plant and animal species in about 20 parcels of military land, most of them in remote areas of the Koolau and Waianae mountains. The plans come in response to the impacts of military training exercises on endangered species, according the Army’s submittal to BLNR [pdf].

Civil Beat previously covered some similar efforts in a three-part series:

The board’s approval seems to conflict with Aila’s personal policy from his protestor days. Asked if collaboration with the Army contradicts his prior opposition to military intrusion into sacred or pristine lands, Aila said he believes his stance has remained consistent.

“We’ll work with them when it’s right, and we’ll tell them when it’s not,” he told Civil Beat. In other words: I’m not afraid of a fight.

Smiling, he mentioned the end of live-fire training in Makua as proof that the military can be reasonable. The Star-Advertiser editorial board cheered the move last Friday, and even anti-military advocacy website DMZ Hawaii called the announcement a “partial win.”

(Of course, some on the Big Island are less than ecstatic that some military training operations might shift to Pohakuloa Training Area.)

The collaboration between the department and the military is the first of Aila’s tenure, but it won’t be the last. Already, a published agenda [pdf] for this week’s meeting of the Commission on Water Resource Management foreshadows a potential clash.

The U.S. Navy is requesting 864,000 gallons of potable ground water per day to support military operations, a 300-plus percent increase from the 208,000 gallons it’s currently receiving from the Wahiawa Deep Well each day. The water will be used for domestic needs in houses and offices and for air-conditioning cooling, according to the submittal [pdf].

The staff recommendation, authored by new Deputy Director Bill Tam and approved by Aila, suggests the Navy overestimated its needs and put forward a request that’s “not appropriate for the purposes of allocating long term use.”

The recommendation further states that granting the request would push the Wahiawa aquifer beyond its sustainable yield. The aquifer supplies nearly 23 million gallons of water per day to Waialua Sugar, the U.S. Army, the Kunia Water Association and others.

The department is not recommending rejection of the Navy’s request but instead saying it should be allocated 444,000 gallons per day, about half of what it’s asking for.

The commission, chaired by Aila, is scheduled to meet Thursday.

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