A Hilo Purchase of 283 Acres Marks A New Beginning For Kili Islanders
A heartfelt ceremony was held this past Wednesday in the Kaʻūmana area of Hilo, where the paved road ends at the edge of a sizable acreage. The land sits adjacent to a relatively new residential neighborhood.
The celebration marked the end of a long journey and introduced the potential for a fresh start for the people of Bikini Atoll, whose idyllic islands were routinely used as nuclear test sites by the U.S. government throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands and consists of 23 islands and a total of just 3.4 square miles of land that surround a central lagoon of almost 230 square miles. Bikini Island is one of the few islands in the atoll that was permanently populated before the middle of the last century.
In total, 23 nuclear devices were detonated across seven test sites in Bikini Atoll, and these left the islands ravaged. Bikini Island residents were forced to relocate to Kili Island and could not return to their island home due to dangerous levels of radioactivity.
Climate change is compounding the problems of these islanders. The low-lying atoll is threatened by rising sea levels. But recent events are lending a more positive outlook to the future for Kili Island residents.
The U.S. government began making reparations to Bikini Atoll residents and other northern atolls in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until recently that residents gained control over their settlement funds.
The Department of the Interior controlled their trust fund, and they were limited as to how much they could spend in a given year. The mayor of the Bikini Ejit Local Government recently wrested control of the money paid in damages, and on behalf of the people of Kili Island, their government has been making sound investments and strategic moves to secure their future.
One of these strategic decisions was the recent purchase of 283 acres in Hilo from Akalea Partners, LLC. It’s the fulfillment of a dream and long-cherished goal for the people of Kili Island, who tried to purchase land on Maui in the 1980s. Their newly acquired parcel extends from the Ainako area all the way Akolea Road. Purchased for $4.8 million, the land is vacant, with a stream running through it.
The Bikini Ejit Local Government’s most immediate plans are to develop a large portion of the parcel into one-acre lots. Once County water, roads and utilities reach the development, and the lots are graded to pad, they plan to sell the lots and potentially some spec homes at full market value, thereby recuperating their initial investment.
Ultimately, they are driven by a goal to make their trust grow over time, in order to benefit their people for generations. If climate change drives them from their home, the Kili Island residents would move to the land on Hawai‘i.
Anderson Jibas, Kili/Bikini/Ejit Local Government’s mayor, attended Wednesday’s celebration, along with some Executive Councilmen, and the former president of the Marshall Islands, Kessai Note, and Gordon Benjamin, the attorney representing the Kili/Bikini/Ejit Local Government (officially an LLC that is owned and run by the local government). A handful of Hawai‘i Life real estate professionals, friends and associates were also there to witness the auspicious ribbon-cutting ceremony.
My team – Team Nakanishi – which includes my mother, Denise Nakanishi, represented the purchasers, and Green Realty Group represented the seller as listing brokerage.
They thanked us countless times and I was overwhelmed by their gratitude. They never thought their dream would come to fruition, and this week, there they were – standing on this land, cutting a ribbon and marking a new beginning for their people.
Other strategies they’ve been engaging in are geared towards investments that will directly help the Marshallese. As a group, they collectively purchased landing craft boats that have made deliveries of needed goods to their islands of much safer. Previously, they were forced to unload cargo onto smaller boats at sea, and then deliver the goods to shore.
The boats are generating revenue, since they are routinely subcontracted to other nearby islands in Bikini Atoll. The Kili Islanders are also planning to purchase a plane in order to kickstart diving tourism by providing air transport to and from Kili Island.
I was honored to be a part of their journey and to help them make their dream come true. I hope this land purchase helps to restore a feeling of stability to Kili Islanders, knowing that they have a home in these islands should they ever need it.