American Hams to Lead 2009 DXpedition to Desecheo Island
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has selected a group of hams led by veteran DXpeditioners Bob Allphin, K4UEE, and Glenn Johnson, W0GJ, to lead a DXpedition to Desecheo Island, KP5 (IOTA NA-095), in early 2009. Desecheo currently sits at number 7 on DX Magazine's Most Wanted list.
Desecheo is a small uninhabited island in the Mona Passage, 14 miles off the western coast of Puerto Rico. It is part of the FWS's national wildlife refuge system administered by the Caribbean National Wildlife Refuge Complex (CNWR).
Johnson told the ARRL that about eight years ago, a group of DXers wanting to activate Navassa and Desecheo Islands formed an organization, the KP1-5 Project. According to its Web site, "The purpose of the KP1-5 Project is to work toward a solution to the closure of Desecheo and Navassa Islands to Amateur Radio operators by achieving lawful, periodic access to these islands pursuant to US Fish and Wildlife Service authorization. While operating from these islands is a worthwhile goal, the KP1-5 Project is dedicated to a long term partnership that jointly benefits the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Amateur Radio operators worldwide."
In 2005, H.R. 1183 was introduced in the US House of Representatives. This bill, while not specifically mentioning Amateur Radio operations, would require "limited public access to the Desecheo and Navassa national wildlife refuges." While this bill did not become law, the KP1-5 Project continued to negotiate with the FWS, seeking permission to mount a DXpedition and activate Desecheo Island. Through these negotiations, the FWS, by way of the CNWR, invited written proposals from groups interested in activating the island.
In June 2008, CNWR invited written proposals from hams who had previously made inquiries about an Amateur Radio operation from Desecheo; CNWR indicated that they would allow one group to activate the island. After reviewing the proposals, CNWR would then select a group and prepare to issue a Special Permit to the successful party, limiting the group to no more than 15 people staying no longer than 14 days. Applicants had 45 days to prepare and submit their proposals. According to Allphin, seven groups submitted proposals.
The CNWR also stated certain conditions that would have to met to be considered for selection, such as completing unexploded ordnance awareness training (Desecheo has been used in the past by the US Air Force as a bombing range and for survival training), prior experience conducting a DXpedition from a natural resource area and other sites, removing all refuse from the island and locating all transmission equipment and camping facilities within 200 feet of the cement helipad on the island. According to the solicitation letter, CNWR personnel will make periodic compliance checks during the stay.
"A panel of three Fish and Wildlife Service employees, from areas within the Service outside of the Caribbean refuge, spent September 24 & 25 reviewing and evaluating the [seven] proposals," Allphin said. "The selection criteria used were those outlined in the proposal invitation letter. Points were awarded for how well criteria were addressed for thoroughness and documentation. USFWS has not announced the actual dates of the operation yet, but the DXpedition is expected to take place between January 15 and March 30, 2009. A Special Use Permit will be issued as per USFWS regulations." Allphin said he expects that the DXpedition team and DXers worldwide will have a minimum of 30 days' notice prior to the start of the trip to Desecheo.
"It was truly an honor to have our proposal and team selected from the stiff competition," Johnson told the ARRL. "This has been a true team effort on our part from the start. We look forward to activating an entity in the Top 10 Most Wanted that is located in our own back yard!"
According to ARRL Membership and Volunteer Programs Manager and experienced DXpeditioner Dave Patton, NN1N, both Desecheo and Navassa Islands (currently third on DX Magazine's Most Wanted list) saw frequent operations in the late 1970s through late '80s, but operations from the islands have been very limited since then. With the islands under the control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, combined with decaying "infrastructure" on Navassa, there are more issues that must be dealt with than there were 25 years ago.
"A well-organized and lengthy operation from Desecheo will be a nice treat for the world's DXers," Patton said. "With W0GJ and K4UEE leading the operation, I think we can all count on a first class effort that will give maximum exposure to Asia/Oceania and Europe where KP5 is most needed. I also think that Glenn and Bob can demonstrate to the Fish and Wildlife Service that a DXpedition can take place and not damage the environment or cause big problems amongst other hams or for other agencies. I hope hams will be invited back to Desecheo more frequently in the future and expand the places where hams may operate."
Dennis Motschenbacher, K7BV (ex-KZ5M), fondly recalled his part in the Texas DX Society's 1985 DXpedition to Desecheo, telling the ARRL what made his time there so special: "KP5 -- what incredible memories for me. It was my first 'classic' DXpedition; meaning putting a tiny island on the air after landing on the beach in a small boat and hauling all the gear up the rocks. This one took 24 hours of manual labor to get everything from the small beach, over the rocks, and to the operating area -- quite a task for a bunch of guys that spent more time behind a desk than they did at the gym! To this day, I have never had the pleasure and excitement of working down huge pileups like we experienced on KP5 -- I can still hear them in my ears. I know that Bob, Glenn and their crew will do a fantastic job lowering this Top 10 rare one down the needed list. I am so happy for each and every operator going in 2009. I know in my heart this will be a trip that even the most well-traveled of them will remember for the rest of their lives.
In 1979, upon the recommendation of the DX Advisory Committee (DXAC), Desecheo Island was added to the DXCC list for contacts made after March 1 of that year. KP4AM/D -- with operators N4EA, KP4Q, N4ZC, KP4DSD, KV4KV (now KP2A), KP4AM (now W4DN) -- made the first DXpedition Desecheo in March 1979. Various groups have made their way to Desecheo since the first trip, but other than a brief operation in December 2005, there has been no activity from the island since 1994.
According to DXCC Manager Bill Moore, NC1L, the lack of activity is due to the FWS not issuing the needed Special Use permits. "The FWS has always claimed safety concerns as a reason to not issue the permits," he said. "Since the island was used as a bombing range, there is the possibility that unexploded, live munitions are still on the island. It is always a good thing when an entity that had activation difficulties in the past gets on the air again."