Saturday, March 16, 2002

Public access has been cut off to Midway Islands where a historic battle marked the turning of U.S. fortunes in the Pacific theater of World War II because of “extreme” environmental policies imposed by the federal government, a spokesman said yesterday.
Unable to resolve ongoing disagreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Midway Phoenix Corp. has stoped all flights and is abandoning the resort it built on the former Navy base for veterans and ecotourists, said corporation spokesman Bob Tracey.
“We have no choice but to abandon our $15 million investment,” Mr. Tracey said.
The withdrawal of the corporation means that all commercial airline service, power-plant service, food supply and hotel service will be terminated, forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of the atoll to shut it down.
“Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to balance the desires of the Interior Department wildlife officers for keeping the public separated from the atoll’s delicate environment, and the desires of the paying public to have access to the vast beauty of the atoll,” said Mark Thompson, Midway Phoenix president.
An Interior Department spokesman said they were unsuccessful in working out an agreement with the corporation to remain at Midway, but are negotiating with Boeing Co. to resume air service.
“We will implement a transition strategy to preserve the condition of the facilities and ensure the continued conservation of Midway’s fish, wildlife and historical resources,” said spokesman Mark Pfeifle.
The agency is looking for another private company to resume the operations on the island. The Fish and Wildlife Service will use its own funds until another corporate sponsor can be recruited.
Subjective environmental restrictions “on an extreme level” were imposed on the corporation and tourists, making it impossible for the company to turn a profit, Mr. Tracey said.
He said there were occasions when beaches and other parts of the atoll were sealed off from the public.
“Their attitude was to put a chain-link fence around it and post a ‘keep out’ sign,” Mr. Tracey said.
The beaches were closed arbitrarily if a government employee “thought” a seal might wander onto the beach that day, Mr. Tracey said.
“You don’t tell people who have flown from Germany to see the beach to go back to their rooms and watch soap operas,” he said.
The only seal ever harmed on the atoll was at the hands of a government employee, who oversedated an animal and accidently killed it, Mr. Tracey said.
Ironwood trees planted by the Navy to provide shade were systematically poisoned by the Fish and Wildlife Service because the trees are not native to the atoll. Young birds are forced to burrow into protruding tree trunks in an attempt to escape the harsh sun.
Street signs were cut from 12 feet to 4 feet so as not to interfere with birds, but are a hazard to unsuspecting tourists, Mr. Tracey said.
“It was all testimonial to the fact they never wanted visitors there anyway,” he said.
The government’s environmental policies and abandonment of the corporation have angered veterans, who are preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the battle beginning June 4.
“Based on past experiences with the FWS, it is fair to say that access to Midway by the public was doomed to failure from the beginning,” said James M. D’Angelo, president of the International Midway Memorial Foundation (IMMF).
“While the agency spoke words of cooperation, its actions were on an inexorable path to ensure that the atoll would be closed to the public and that all traces of its history would be lost forever,” he said.
The anniversary activities will be held on the Hawaiian islands, 1,200 miles southeast of Midway, because the agency ignored requests to have the celebration on the atoll, Mr. D’Angelo said.
Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to allow veterans to install a flagpole to fly a newly designed flag honoring the atoll as a national memorial, he said.
The agency also denied the veterans a marble monument because the structures would endanger birds by posing a “strike hazard.” The veterans declined to hold their anniversary on the atoll last year.
“The biggest concern is, this was a major turning point in World War II and this is an American historical treasure, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is totally disregarding the sacredness of the atoll in preference to their mission to preserve wildlife,” Mr. D’Angelo said.
After the Navy departed in 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Service needed a partner to continue operating Midway. When other federal agencies were not forthcoming, the service turned to the private sector and entered into a cooperative agreement with the Midway Phoenix Corp.
“Unfortunately, we were the ones doing all the cooperating,” Mr. Tracey said.
“It’s outrageous. This agency is out of control and they want their own private petting zoo out there,” he said. “They have no intention of doing anything to create public access.”
No tax dollars were used to operate the atoll, and Fish and Wildlife Service employees were paid by the corporation.
But Mr. Pfeifle said a bone of contention is that the corporation has not reimbursed the federal government $1.5 million for fuel.
Mr. Tracey said the government employees abused airline services flying in friends and family for free.
The IMMF is lobbying Congress to wrest control of the atoll from the Fish and Wildlife Service to another government agency more friendly to public access, such as the National Park Service.
“The only way to stop [FWS] from completing their mission of eradicating all traces of human habitation on Midway and its rich history is for Congress to replace [it] with another federal agency,” Mr. D’Angelo said.

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