North Shore residents raise concerns about proposed military missile radar

Local News

KAHUKU, Hawaii (KHON2) — A potential military project is raising concerns on Oahu’s North Shore.

Two sites are currently being considered for a nearly $2 billion homeland defense radar; one in Kahuku and another on Kauai.

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The public has until Monday, April 12, to voice their concerns for the potential projects.

The site at the Kahuku Training Center sits in Waiale’e, above the area referred to as Velzyland on Oahu’s North Shore.

A few hundred yards above the community would be an 85-foot defense missile radar.

“There are many, many concerns that come up, you know, what does it mean to have high-powered radar located so close to very densely populated neighborhoods and communities?” said Joe Wilson, who lives near the area and is a member of the Koolau-Waialua Alliance.

The radar facility at the Kahuku Training Area is owned by the military, however, community members say it will take away land that is home to several endangered plant species and other animals if it is built.

“They’re going to be clearing 160 acres, that’s a lot of acres, a lot of animals, and a lot of owls that will lose their homes,” said resident Lynell Damate, who is also a part of the Koolau-Waialua alliance.

“I think a lot of us at the community level just look at the history of military projects in Hawaii and have seen, you know desecration of lands, cultural and sacred sites, and contamination. I mean, look at Red Hill,” Wilson said.

The Kahuku site would store ten 25,000 gallon fuel tanks similar to Red Hill on Oahu, where the Board of Water Supply has been requesting the military remove the tanks for decades.

Radiation emissions and toxic waste runoff are other concerns.

“It’s not to oppose just to oppose, but to oppose because there’s significant damage that could happen,” explained Honolulu councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi who represents the North Shore district. “It’s not just because we hypothesize about it or theorize about it, it’s because we’ve already seen it happen, we’ve already seen that once a fuel storage tank is built, it’s going to be near to impossible they will remove it or doing anything to take it away because they haven’t done it at Red Hill which has been there since World War Two times.”

A spokesperson for the Missile Defense Agency said through email that the existing Missile Defense System provides protection from a limited ballistic missile attack. 

“The primary purpose of the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii (HDR-H), if built, is to provide enhanced discrimination and precision tracking of ICBM threats to Hawaii.  HDR-H would enhance the defensive capability of the U.S. inventory of GBIs against the evolving missile threat to Hawaii from rogue states, such as North Korea.  The HDR-H also has capability to support other missions including Space Situational Awareness.”

The email also added:

The United States is not developing or deploying homeland missile defense capabilities intended to defend against long-range missile attacks from near-peers Russia and China, including threats posed by long-range hypersonic missiles.  The United States relies on nuclear deterrence to address the strategic nuclear capabilities of near-peers to the U.S. homeland.  The United States is, however, seeking to leverage sensors for early warning, identification, and tracking of regional and strategic hypersonic threats to provide U.S. leadership with timely warning of missile attacks on the U.S. homeland.

“Separately, for short-to intermediate-range regional hypersonic threats, the United States is pursuing active defense capabilities, including options to intercept and destroy regional hypersonic missiles.  The HDR-H, if built, would be a highly capable missile defense radar able to identify and track advanced missile threats, to include hypersonic threats. 

“MDA conducted a siting study evaluating 46 Department of Defense owned sites on the islands of Oahu and Kauai and determined that the U.S. Army Kahuku Training Area Site 1 and the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility Site would be included in the HDR-H Environmental Impact Statement for
consideration as possible sites to locate the HDR-H.

The spokesperson said, the proposed fuel storage system would consist of aboveground double-walled fuel storage tanks within a bulk storage area. 

“In the unlikely event of a fuel spill or leak, a secondary containment system for tanks and piping, along with leak detection systems would prevent any contamination to water systems. Design and management of the fuel system would be in accordance with appropriate federal and state regulations.”

The spokesperson said, there are no public health concerns associated with the project and it will not include deployment of missiles if built.

“The HDR-H will produce radio frequency (RF) non-ionizing radiation, the same type of energy produced from cell phone towers, microwave ovens, and Bluetooth accessories.  This radar is designed to track and discriminate objects in space, with energy directed above the horizon.  A “Keep Out Zone” in front of the radar face will be enforced within the secured perimeter of the facility to ensure the safety of personnel on the ground.  Beyond this distance, energy emission is below threshold levels deemed safe by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standards.

A decision on potential location for the HDR-H has not been made. The HDR-H Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is considering two locations, the Kahuku Training Area site and the Pacific Missile Range Facility site. The EIS process encourages and facilitates public involvement to obtain local knowledge and consider community issues and concerns, within the scope of the analysis.  The MDA is currently in the public scoping period and is hosting an online open house at https://hdrheis.com/ through April 12, 2021.

Construction for the defense radar could begin in fall 2022 if the Department of Defense and Congress authorize funding for the project.

The public can submit comments through Monday, April 12, which will be included in the military’s environmental impact assessment. Click here to submit comments.

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