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Former Dillingham Airfield on Oahu sees a new 50-year lease

Just as a short-term lease between the Army and the state for use of what was formerly known as Dillingham Airfield expired Friday, Gov. Josh Green announced a new 50-year agreement after “long, intense negotiations.”

Green, along with the state Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i, shared details of a new lease for the North Shore’s Kawaihapai Airfield.

Kawaihapai is within the Dillingham Military Reservation and is an active Army installation leased by DOT for joint military and civil aviation purposes. It is primarily used for military flight operations, military ground maneuvers, civil aviation and sport parachute operations.

It is the only location on O‘ahu where skydiving and glider flights are possible.

The new lease will go into effect today. Airfield operations will continue as normal, including uninterrupted water service to the tenants as well as to nearby off- airfield users.

“Kawaihapai Airfield plays a significant role in aircraft training for civilians and the military and a significant role in a healthy, diversified economy,” Green said in a statement. “I’m proud that as a state we are able to come together with the varied stakeholders at Dillingham to continue to operate as a civil aviation resource and reach a mutual solution for water delivery.”

DOT Director Ed Sniffen said Friday that there’s no cost associated with the new lease.

“It was a mutual benefit for all of us involved in this, and it’ll help us make sure that the airfield itself, after we put improvements into it with federal funds, can be self-sufficient,” he said.

Over the past decade, DOT and the Army have collaborated to resolve lease-related issues that previously hindered DOT’s eligibility for federal grants at Kawaihapai.

In July 2023, DOT officially notified the Army that continued operation was contingent upon resolving three critical issues:

w DOT sought a long-term lease and joint use agreement to maintain eligibility for federal grants, facilitating infrastructure improvements and ongoing maintenance crucial for civilian operations.

w DOT required a new lease that would grant adequate rights and powers, ensuring compliance with federal laws and obligations tied to federal grants.

w Continued access to necessary water for operating and maintaining the airfield, while relieving DOT of responsibility for the Dillingham Public Water System. The system serves about 30 water users, including select residents and Camp Erdman. Historically overseen by DOT, maintaining oversight would not have aligned with federal funding requirements moving forward.

Through joint efforts involving DOT, Army Garrison Hawai‘i and the Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District, agreements were successfully reached on all three conditions.

The Army — in support of the new lease — has entered into a separate five-year license with community- based Aqua Engineers to operate the Dillingham water system beginning today, guaranteeing uninterrupted service to current water users. The Army will collaborate with Aqua Engineers to establish a long-term agreement for ongoing operation of the system.

The Army regularly conducts exercises and training that necessitate the use of Kawaihapai for ground maneuvers and aviation operations involving helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Systems and cargo planes. The airfield is also home to the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center training exercise that enhances regional combat readiness.

Civilian-owned and operated businesses at the airfield cater to visitors and local patrons interested in recreational aviation activities such as glider flying, free-fall parachuting, sightseeing and occasional trips to neighboring islands.

“This new 50-year lease will ensure Kawaihapai Airfield remains open for commercial activities and will continue to serve as a critical economic resource for O‘ahu’s North Shore community,” Sniffen said in a statement.
Source: The Garden Island

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