US backs major housing plan for displaced Kwajalein islanders

12:14 pm on 3 September 2018

The first phase of a long-awaited plan to build new housing for dislocated islanders living in shabby conditions at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands received the green light from the United States last week.

Over $US2.4 million was approved for developing the 100-unit housing plan, and beginning the first phase.

This includes $US354,000 to hire a professional community housing planner to help the Marshall Islands government "in preparation of a fully developed Mid-Corridor Housing Project implementation plan," according to the Joint Economic Management and Financial Accountability Committee (JEMFAC), which held its annual meeting last week in Honolulu.

An aerial view of Ebeye Island, home to 12,000 people living on 80 acres of land.

An aerial view of Ebeye Island, home to 12,000 people living on 80 acres of land. Photo: Giff Johnson

JEMFAC is the US-Marshall Islands group that approves use of US funding under the Compact of Free Association for the Marshall Islands.

JEMFAC also endorsed spending $US1.5 million of Compact funding for stage one of the housing once the Marshall Islands satisfies various conditions.

Another $US582,372 of unspent funding from previous years was also approved for Mid-Corridor housing.

Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk, who led the Marshall Islands delegation at the annual JEMFAC talks, called approval of the Mid-Corridor housing project an "historic" development.

"We are eager to move this important project forward while ensuring that it will have the most long-lasting beneficial outcome for the people and families of the Mid-Atoll Corridor," said the three US JEMFAC members in a letter May 8 to Mr Silk and Finance Minister Brenson Wase.

"While we welcome the energetic approach of the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority, the Request for Proposals recently issued by KADA is not sufficiently developed to attract qualifying bids."

The three US representatives - Interior Department's Nikolao Pula, State Department's Nicholas Dean and Health and Human Services' Bill Gallo - sought Silk and Wase's endorsement for the hiring a community housing development planner who would assist development of a full design-bid-build proposal for JEMFAC consideration.

Last week's JEMFAC meeting, with Silk and Wase leading the Marshall Islands delegation, endorsed this plan.

The conditions for release of construction funding include developing a construction project plan that follows "best practices" of commercial lenders.

Mid-Corridor people were removed from their islands along the central portion of Kwajalein Atoll's boomerang-shaped lagoon in 1964 and moved to Ebeye Island so the US Army could target the lagoon for missiles launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Over 50 years ago, the Army built concrete block one-story apartments for the evacuees. They are still living in the same units, though families second floors over time.

Like most of Ebeye Island, an 80-acre island with 12,000 residents, the Mid-Corridor housing area on the island is overcrowded and housing dilapidated.

The Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority, which is spearheading the housing project, anticipates building 10-to-15 units per year.