Visitors tour the USS Arizona memorial at the Pearl Harbor historical site and memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Navy wants to cover a famous runway in Pearl Harbor with solar panels. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty)
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History buffs say the famous runway at Pearl Harbor's Ford Island is under attack once again — this time from the U.S. Navy itself, which may cover it with solar panels.
The unused runway in the center of the military base at Pearl Harbor is a good location for the solar project and is "critically important to achieving renewable energy mandates," said Navy spokeswoman Agnes Tauyan. But American history aficionados say the site should be preserved as sacred ground.
"We totally agree with (the Navy) being green, but we don't think they should do it where Americans spilled their red blood," said Ken DeHoff, director of the Pacific Aviation Museum, located in an airplane hangar on Ford Island. "There's plenty of room for them to create this project off to the west, which is just scrub oak and abandoned land."
The runway is part of a decommissioned airfield now, but on Dec. 7, 1941, 33 of the 70 aircraft on the ground at Ford Island and one hangar were destroyed during the Japanese surprise attack. In 1964, the runway and the rest of Ford Island were designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Navy's plan that is under consideration would cover Ford Island's 4,000-foot runway and 14 acres of adjoining land with 60,000 solar-energy panels. The goal is to convert at least 50 percent of the Navy's energy demands to alternative sources by 2020.
The Pacific Aviation Museum has opposed the proposed project because it says it does not respect the runway's significance in American history.
"Consider the hue and cry should a 60,000-panel project be located at Gettysburg or Valley Forge," the museum said in a written statement. DeHoff said the museum suggested the Navy build the solar panel array at West Loch, an unused area to the west of the airfield on Waipio Peninsula, but he said the Navy rejected the alternative location because it was within the "blast arc," or minimum safe distance, of an area where the Navy stores ammunition.
The museum gives tours of the island that feature the runway, hangars and iconic red-and-white spiraled control tower that was featured prominently in the movies "Pearl Harbor" and "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
The island is also home to the battleship Missouri as well as monuments to the battleships Utah and Oklahoma. Tauyan said the proposal is part of a project that "includes installation of PV arrays on roofs, parking shade structures and available parcels of land" in military installations across the state of Hawaii, and that the project is critically important to "achieving energy security."
According to the Navy, the runway at Ford Island is under consideration for the panels because "it is an inactive space that is ideally located and sized." The Navy says the photovoltaic panel systems will be built, owned, operated and maintained by three energy companies awarded a $500 million contract to provide locally generated energy to the Navy.
The Navy says the West Loch location has not yet been completely ruled out and that several potential locations are being considered while the Navy conducts an environmental assessment of the surrounding area.
DeHoff said that although the runway hasn't been maintained since its deactivation in 1999, the site's historical significance, along with its importance to the local community, hasn't diminished. "This is an area that the kids play in, and they're going to cover it up and put a 7-foot high fence around it and basically make the place a monstrosity," he said.
Along with the roughly 450 homes housing Navy personnel and their families on the island, DeHoff said the museum has about 200,000 visitors a year.
According to the Pacific Aviation Museum, the Navy's initial proposal was to erect the 60,000 blue, 4-by-6-foot solar panels in a way that would resemble the historic runway when seen from the air, with a white X placed every 1,000 feet along the array as if it were a closed runway.
Barbara Bloom, a museum representative, said the Navy's design is unacceptable because "it's going to look like the runway's made of Legos."
Tauyan said the Navy "remains committed to balancing our responsibility towards environmental stewardship, energy security and the preservation of historically significant facilities and structures."