The former site of a tsunami warning center in Ewa Beach could eventually be home to hundreds of Native Hawaiian families who have waited for years to access land promised them by the federal government.
The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is expected to receive 80 acres of land at the former site of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. In 1995, Congress passed a law, the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, which set up a process to transfer federal lands to DHHL to settle claims over 1,200 acres used by the federal government that should have been part of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust.
The federal government has so far transferred more than 900 acres to DHHL, but much of it isn’t suitable for homesteading and is instead used for commercial leases. Transfer of the Ewa Beach property would be the first from the federal government that has water, sewer and electric lines suitable for residential homes.
About 400 houses are expected to be built on that parcel.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland struck a somber tone on a Monday press call announcing the land transfer. She referenced the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and subsequent annexation of the islands to the U.S.
“Since that time, our country has learned a great deal. And now, we are in an era where we recognize the importance of healing the generational traumas that have caused pain and heartache,” Haaland said, her voice cracking.
The land transfer, valued at $10 million, also helps to address a $16.9 million land credit owed to DHHL from a previous land transfer that fell through. Federal officials have yet to identify lands that could pay off the $6.9 million balance.
The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest federal landowner in Hawaii and has been reviewing some parcels that potentially could be transferred to DHHL, according to Kaʻiʻini Kimo Kaloi, director of Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations.
“We don’t have any properties in the hopper, but I know the research is ongoing,” Kaloi said.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission, in tandem with Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, must still come up with a plan for the 80 acres in Ewa Beach.
DHHL also plans to ask the Legislature for funding to begin master planning for the area.
“This land transfer is an opportunity for beneficiaries that is truly in line with the spirit of the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act,” William Aila, chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission and DHHL director, said in a press release.
The Hawaiian Home Lands Trust has more than 200,000 acres spread across the state. However, much of the land can’t be developed for homesteading.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation praised the land transfer at Monday’s press conference.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Rep. Kai Kahele said. “There are 11,000 Native Hawaiians seeking residential homesteads on Oahu today. This land transfer, although it won’t satisfy this entire list, will provide at least 400 homes for Native Hawaiian families.”
There are about 28,000 Hawaiian beneficiaries still waiting for homes on DHHL’s waitlist.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell