Last month, the Department of the Interior announced it was time for the people of Bikini to make decisions, not policy makers in Washington DC, and transferred control over the Bikini Resettlement trust fund. As soon as the decision took effect, 11 million dollars was withdrawn from the 59 million dollar fund, and now Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska plans legislation to restore federal supervision. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The United States conducted 23 nuclear weapons tests on the Marshall Islands Atoll, starting in 1946.
As they were evacuated, residents were told that, until they returned, the United States would take care of them. 70 years later, Bikini remains uninhabitable. Congress approved 110 million dollars for a resettlement trust fund; up until now, Federal officials and leaders of the Bikini Council met each year to agree on a withdrawal, usually six to seven million dollars, and the Council decided how to spend it, subject to an Interior Department veto.
Last August, the Bikini Council asked Interior to transfer full control, saying that budgets barely provide for sustenance and don’t allow the people of Bikini to develop income-generating projects. The Department of the Interior agreed, and turned over control on November 21st.
Bikini Mayor Anderson Jilas told the Marshall Islands Journal, “We are free to determine our own destiny and every Bikinian should be proud of this new era.”
But former mayor Alsen Kelen expressed concern about the 11 million dollar withdrawal: “The money belongs to every Bikinian alive, not just to council members,” he told the Marshall Islands Journal.
Senator Murkowski agreed. The Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources committee objected that an amount more than double the annual budget was withdrawn without any agreement on how it would be spent. She’s drafted legislation to impose what she described as a reasonable limit on annual withdrawals.