Sunday, May 26, 2002

Key lawmakers are pushing legislation to wrest control of the Midway Atoll away from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which they say is mismanaging the historic site.
Public access to the atoll was disrupted earlier this year after disagreements between the agency and the Phoenix Corp., which abandoned the resort it built on the former Navy base for veterans and ecotourists and stopped all flights.
“Unfortunately, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not been able to effectively manage this unique Wildlife Refuge that is also home of the National Midway Memorial,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican.
The bill’s main sponsors are Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and member of the House Government Reform Committee, and Mr. Duncan, who Capitol Hill insiders say is expected to inherit the chairmanship of the House Resources Committee when the current chairman, James V. Hansen, Utah Republican, retires at the end of the year.
The legislation would require the secretary of the interior to name a new federal agency to manage Midway Island.
The disputes involve environmental regulations on the atoll, which the Phoenix Corp. says were randomly enforced. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the private company was aware of the restrictions when it signed a working agreement and is at fault for abandoning the arrangement.
Access to beaches was arbitrarily restricted, ironwood trees planted by the Navy to provide shade were poisoned by the agency because they are not native to the island, and other restrictions made it difficult to turn a profit, a spokesman for the Phoenix Corp. said.
All flights to the atoll were stopped in January, and the federal government began a search for another company to run the airstrip and take over island operations.
The government refused to allow the International Midway Memorial Foundation (IMMF) permission to erect a flagpole because it was considered a strike hazard for birds. Placement of a memorial was also denied.
Dr. James M. D’Angelo, president of the IMMF, said the Fish and Wildlife Service is unable to balance the multifunctional purpose of Midway.
“Jurisdiction over Midway must be in the hands of an agency that can function in a manner that respects equally the concerns of caring for the wildlife refuge and the national memorial,” Mr. D’Angelo said.
“I am very disappointed that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not take the appropriate steps to keep the airport open. Having a wildlife refuge or a national memorial that only bureaucrats can visit does not make a whole lot of sense,” Mr. Duncan said.
“I think the veterans who fought in the Battle of Midway deserve to be treated better by the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Mr. Duncan said, referring to the 1942 battle in the Pacific in which U.S. forces delivered a major defeat to Imperial Japan.
GeoEngineers Inc, was awarded a six-month contract last month to continue operations on the island, but no date has been set to reopen the field and flights will continue to be closed to the public.
Meanwhile, administration officials, military officers and representatives of veterans organizations will hold a wreath-laying ceremony on the atoll June 5 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
A separate reception honoring veterans will be held in Honolulu on June 3.
“Although we are not in a position at this time to reopen our doors to visitors, we hope to be able to do so in the future,” said Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks.
“We are working to reopen the island as quickly as possible so that veterans, birders and the general public once again can have the opportunity to experience the significant historic and wildlife resources so abundant on this atoll in the middle of the Pacific,” Mr. Manson said.
Veterans wishing to attend the atoll ceremony should contact the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“They will do their best to get them out there,” said Hugh Vickery, Interior Department spokesman.
The U.S. Navy on June 4, 1942, defeated the Japanese navy in that historic battle, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide