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Military spending bill includes isle manufacturing, invasive species

HONOLULU — The latest draft of the annual military spending bill from Congress includes several Hawai‘i-centric provisions, including calls for the military to work with the state to track and eradicate invasive species across island lands it controls, as well as a pilot program to develop an advanced manufacturing facility in Hawai‘i to support military operations in the region.

The military is one of the state’s largest landowners, controlling vast tracks of land across the islands, and military spending has played a prominent role in the economy, U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who pushed for the inclusion of the provisions, told the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser. “We make sure that the (National Defense Appropriations Act or NDAA) really reflects the needs of Hawai‘i,” she said.

Many military-controlled lands are homes to threatened native species and — like others — are seeing encroachment by invasive species. Tokuda said that she’s prioritizing “making sure that we protect our way of life, our crops and our plants and animal species, which means that we have to make sure that our military partners are not contributing to the introduction of the proliferation of pests and disease into our state.”

Among the most worrying invasive species for state leaders of late has been the coconut rhinoceros beetle, which has spread across O‘ahu and is popping up across the islands. It mostly is known for feeding on coconut, fan, date and royal palms as primary food sources, but the beetles also will go after banana and hala trees, taro, pineapple, papaya and sugar cane.

“I definitely feel that food security is linked to national security,” Tokuda said. “And if we believe that, then it has to be reflected in our policy.”

This year the state Legislature voted to appropriate $19.8 million for the Department of Agriculture to combat pests, including coconut rhinoceros beetles, fire ants, brown tree snakes, coqui frogs, rose-ringed parakeets and two-lined spittlebugs.

The military has its own strategies for tackling invasive species as it manages land it controls, but Tokuda said there needs to be more coordination between the military and local authorities to go after species that don’t recognize land boundaries.

“I think we’ve got to be better at somehow doing cross-governmental coordination, with the end goal being we have got to keep pests and disease off our shores. We have got to mitigate and eradicate as much as we can,” Tokuda said. “We cannot singularly do this on our own. It’s got to be working together.”

Between civil import and export activity by plane and ship, tourism and military movements, Hawai‘i’s air and ocean ports are nearly always busy. Sometime they bring in unwanted guests in the form of invasive species. Once they enter the islands, they often quickly thrive due to Hawai‘i’s climate, as well as threaten native species.

“Unlike the mainland or the continent where you might get a cold snap to wipe something out, we don’t have that,” Tokuda said. “So it’s particularly important that we not allow anything in, whether it be on a jet coming in, outflow from a big destroyer or a ship, or even part of cargo from moving in containers of household goods for a (military) family relocating from Okinawa or Guam to Hawai‘i.”

The Pacific has increasingly become a focus for the Pentagon amid tensions with China. Hawai‘i, which hosts the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and sizable numbers of troops from each military branch, is the nerve center for all U.S. military operations in the region. Its central location in the Pacific has made it a key logistical hub for American vessels and aircraft as they traverse the vast blue expanse.

Crews repairing ships and aircraft often have to deal with the harsh realities of those vast distances as they try to get hold of equipment and spare parts to keep them running. Backlogs, long wait times and shipping have proved a headache for military maintenance personnel and contractors in Hawai‘i.

“We know we’re the place that’s going to be fixing the ships. Planes will be touching down, refueling (and) getting fixed up,” Tokuda said. “How do we make sure that it’s not about importing the parts to us? It really is making a lot of the pieces necessary for us to be that stable in the Pacific that (the military) needs.”

Tokuda pushed for the NDAA to include a pilot program to set up a Hawai‘i-­based manufacturing facility, as well as to train a local workforce, to make those parts. She foresees that as being the focus, rather than weapons or munitions, explaining that “there are things we just will never be able to manufacture in Hawai‘i given environmental concerns (such as) proximity to aquifers. What we’re really looking at are the parts needed for ships and planes. Chips manufacturing is something that can be done pretty much anywhere.”

But many Hawai‘i residents and officials have been increasingly skeptical of the U.S. military and its footprint in the islands, especially since jet fuel from the underground Red Hill fuel storage facility tainted the Navy’s O‘ahu waterline, which serves 93,000 people. The facility sits just 100 feet above a critical aquifer most of O‘ahu relies on for drinking water. After initially resisting a state order to defuel the facility, the Navy is now working toward permanent closure.

Tokuda said that as the military moves forward, she’s pressing for it to work more closely with local companies on its projects, saying that “it’s about establishing relationships and building back trust, which is something else that the Department of Defense needs to really focus on, quite frankly, in Hawai‘i.”
Source: The Garden Island

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