The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the remediation effort, has been plagued by shoddy work and multiple regulatory disputes, according to an investigation by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica.

by Rob Perez, ProPublica and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

For the better part of two years, Liliu Ross had lived in a one-room tin-roofed shack in the rural outer reaches of Hawaii’s Big Island. It had no running water and no electricity. But it provided shelter for Ross as she raised sheep and grew crops on land that her Native Hawaiian ancestors once called home. From the open fields and gentle slopes of her five-acre farm lot, she marveled at the stunning views of nearby Mauna Kea, one of the world’s tallest island mountains. Still, there were challenges to living under such conditions. At night she read by candlelight, and during the day she bathed outside with water she warmed in a pot over a fire.

So, in 2014, Ross secured a loan under a special program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help Native Hawaiians build or purchase homes on Native lands. An architect created drawings for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, complete with energy-efficient appliances and a covered lanai. And she even picked the location for the new home.

Small homes along the north shore of Oahu Hawaii

Within months, though, her plan collapsed. Ross learned in a phone call from her builder that HUD had imposed a freeze on federal housing funds throughout the region. As it turned out, her property had been part of the Waikoloa Maneuver Area, a 185,000-acre site that was used by the U.S. military for live-fire training in the 1940s. Troops had fired an unknown number of grenades, mortars and other munitions that failed to explode, and many of the potentially deadly weapons remained, hidden beneath years of soil and vegetation buildup. Federal authorities wanted to ensure the land was safe to use.

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