HONOLULU (KHON2) — The eviction date for Dillingham Airfield tenants has been pushed back another six months as lease negotiations continue between the U.S. Army and the Department of Transportation Airports Division (DOTA). Those in favor of saving the airfield said it creates opportunities for Hawaii to diversify its economy. It’s also the number one drop zone in the world.
The future of Dillingham Airfield is still up in the air.
The good news is the June 30 eviction date for tenants was pushed back to December 31. However, the lease issue hasn’t been resolved.
DOTA agreed to a five-lease extension in 2019, which ends in 2024, but they decided to terminate the lease early — on short notice.
They have since been locked in negotiations, with water a main source of contention.
“A major breakthrough on the lease negotiation is that they’ve separated the water issue,” Sen. Gil Riviere explained.
The U.S. Army, who owns the property, and DOTA, who has leased it since 1962, are both currently in charge of the water, but neither wants to be moving forward, so they are looking at other options.
“We’ve been working very, very hard on working with water management companies, potential water utilities, trying to find out if maybe a water cooperative can be structured,” Riviere said.
In a statement the Hawaii Department of Transportation Deputy Director for Airports Ross Higashi said:
“The DOTA continues to work on open item concerns such as water usage limits permitted by DLNR, compliance relating to FAA Grant Assurances on water utilized by non-airport tenants (YMCA Camp Erdman, US Radar Station (Kaena Point), C&C beach park, residents), operating non-permitted food and beverage concessions, environmental and safety compliance, and working on a long term joint use agreement and lease with the US Army in order for businesses to qualify for financing to improve operations and facilities.
The DOTA will be observing the concerns mentioned above and plans to extend further, unless progress becomes stagnant.
The current lease with the Army expires on July 5, 2024. The impending eviction still remains, and Riviere said it makes no sense.
“There’s no way the water system is going to be resolved by December 31, and there’s no way the DOT will be able to vacate the premises by December 31,” Riviere said.
He said they can’t leave because their contract states they have to return the airfield to its original state.
“One could argue that they have to restore the water system before they leave, maybe knock down all the hangars that were built in the 80’s. So there could be millions of dollars of money that the Department of Transportation has to spend to vacate the airfield,” Riviere explained.
If that’s the case, he said it makes more sense to spend a couple million dollars to keep the airfield going since it also generates income.
Until the problem is resolved, the uncertainty and looming December 31st eviction is causing problems for businesses.
Ben Devine owns Devine Rigging that packs the emergency parachutes for businesses like Pacific Skydiving.
“We are as busy as we’ve ever been. Tourism is back in a big way,” Devine said. “But one of the biggest limiting factors we have at this time is the impending closure date of the airfield of December 31st. It makes it very difficult for us to invest in the business, and more than anything it’s an inability to hire at this time.”
There are currently nine businesses with around 75 employees left at the airfield. Two businesses have closed, and the number of employees cut in half due to the uncertainty.
“It poses a significant challenge to people, the planning of their daily lives,” Devine said. “Something as simple as, ‘Where am I going to have my kids enrolled for school?’ Because if the airport was to close on December 31st, people have to be able to have their kids in school.”
Losing Dillingham Airfield would be devastating for dozens of families and the entire North Shore community.
“In terms of employment opportunities on the North Shore West of Haleiwa, this is just about it,” Devine said. “These are good, well-paying jobs. A lot of the people that are here receive a significant amount of training to go into these careers and are the sole bread winners for their families.”
He said the airport offers a wealth of opportunities.
“Having general aviation airports available to the community provides a unique and invaluable access to aviation careers.”
Dillingham Airfield is also an economic driver for the North Shore, bringing in about $12 million a year in skydiving and gliding tours.
Devine said he hopes the lease will be extended beyond 2024 and the Dillingham Airfield will remain open giving future generations more opportunities to go into aviation.