The US Fish and Wildlife Service has succeeded where the Japanese failed, or in the words of former sailor Bob Smith, who served on Midway in 1961-1962, “FWS is destroying Midway, trying to ‘restore’ it to it’s pre-human condition” (a bird habitat).
Midway last operated as a Naval Air Facility (NAF) until Septmeber 30, 1993, when it was closed. When the Navy officially left on June 30, 1997 legal administration of the island was transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) per executive order dated October 31, 1996.
In 1996, Midway Phoenix Corporation, based in Georgia, entered into a cooperative agreement with the USFWS and took over managing the airport, providing power and maintaining buildings, and proceeded to turn the island into a tourist resort. The arrangement was to cost the government almost nothing; the company, which invested millions, planned to turn a profit by bringing small numbers of tourists to the bird sanctuary and refueling planes and ships.
The uneasy relationship between Midway Phoenix and USFWS continued until 2002 when the company reached an impasse with the USFWS citing “irreconcilable differences”:
The company walked out of the deal complaining that the wildlife agency had not been flexible enough in letting tourists use the beaches and reefs. ”They are not visitor friendly,” [Midway Phoenix VP Robert F.] Tracey said of the agency. ”They are self-appointed stewards of nature, but if they had to look at a profit and loss statement, as we do, they would have to be flexible.” Most beaches were closed, ocean-going tugs were not allowed to visit for refueling, and ”we had to fight like hell for a couple of cruise ships to visit,” he said.
Since the departure of Midway Phoenix the island’s facilities and buildings have deteriorated rapidly. The termite contract was canceled by FWS, flagpoles, trees and even street signs have been cut down because they are “flight hazards” for the birds. Some of the damage to building and equipment on the former base borders on outright vandalism, or at the very least planned dismantlement and abondonment. Before and after pictures, taken in 2002 and 2005 really tell the tale, leaving one to wonder what present day photographs would reveal.
It is quite obvious that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has never had any intention of carrying out its Congressional mandate:
In 1999, in recognition of the atoll’s historical significance, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to develop Midway as a National Memorial and establish a preservation program for its historic military buildings and gun emplacements. This was to include interpretative displays and promotion of tourist visits.
And, in fact, appears to be committed to doing quite the opposite. In a 2005 editorial Gary Randall of MidwayIsland.com wrote that:
The FWS has hired a consultant to study the feasibility of a public visitation program, even though precedence has been set in the last visitation program. Much can be learned by an analysis of the workings, successes and failures of the previous cooperative agreement. Visitation can be profitable, and was proven just prior to the breakdown of the agreement. It is my understanding that the company that was hired by the FWS has not contacted the last cooperator to gain information that would be invaluable to their study. Who are they contacting, and whose information are they using? If the FWS has hired them, and is giving them the information that they are using in their study, the study is destined to be flawed. I am convinced at this point in time that the FWS has hired this company to provide them with an unfavorable assessment of a visitation program to prove that it is impractical. I am also convinced that the FWS would much rather close Midway Island to the public. This would be easiest for them. They would love to close down the airport, as it’s a real pain in their butt. They could raze the buildings that are left, and finish cutting down the ironwood trees. They could do their work according to their own agenda, without public scrutiny.
News concerning Midway has been sparse since 2005, except for a token visit by First Lady Laura Bush, in 2007.
It should be noted that all of this occurred while Bush was President. Now with Obama in office and Salazar at the helm of the Department of the Interior (Parent of USFWS) the outlook for any kind of memorial or public visitation at Midway looks grim indeed.