By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
David Hauhio, 11, holds an M60 machine gun weighing 23 pounds at the open house.
Army opens house at Makua to try to win over public
The military is hoping to win approval to land troops there for exercises
By Jim Witty
There aren’t many places like Makua Valley left on Oahu. From ocean to ridge, the deep cleft in the leeward mountains is empty. No high-rises. No houses. No golf courses. Just grass, rocks, sun and wind.
And the thunder of mortar rounds echoing off the hillsides.
Yesterday, the U.S. Army took a breather from its 350-day-a-year live fire training regimen and invited the community to experience the valley up close and gain a better understanding of the military’s mission there. More than 200 people showed up to see the big guns, learn of steps being taken to preserve the area’s cultural and natural resources and take a Humvee trek back into the valley.
The open house came two days before a key meeting of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board to discuss a Marine Corps proposal to land more than 700 troops at Makua Beach next month in advance of exercises at the target range. In March, Marines were forced to use an alternate site at Bellows Beach after Gov. Ben Cayetano denied a request to use Makua for the exercise.
The community is clearly split on the issue of military use of the valley.
“Give it back to the people,” said Diane Boner, a native Hawaiian whose brother lives nearby. “It’s a beautiful valley and it should be kept a beautiful valley. You’ve got Bellows and Kahoolawe. You didn’t even clean up all the shells at Kahoolawe and you’re starting someplace else.”
Waianae resident Aunty Bella disagreed, arguing that the only way to preserve the valley with its endangered species, heiau and prehistoric archeological sites is to leave it under military control.
“This way, it’s guaranteed this will look like this in the future,” she said. “At this point in time, I’d prefer it stays with the military.”
So would Sunday Paris, a member of the Waianae Neighborhood Board.
“I’m for the military,” Paris said. “These people should keep an open mind. If we get rid of the military and someone comes and bombs us, what happens then? We can’t go backward.”
Some Waianae residents who consider Makua a sacred place objected to the planned Marine landing so soon after the ashes of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole were scattered at the beach.
The military considers Makua Valley a vital training area, because it’s the only place on Oahu where soldiers can train with a wide array of weapons at the same time. Just like in combat situations.
Col. James Hirai, Commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, likened live training in the valley to a football team integrating its specialty squads in preparation for a game. But, he said, the stakes are much higher.
The Army contends it’s working hard to protect the habitat of the nearly extinct tree snail — which lives in the upper reaches of Makua — and other threatened species by beefing up its firefighting capabilities and banning live fire in sensitive areas.
And archaeologist Dr. Laurie Luckinghouse said 33 significant prehistoric sites have been documented and preserved in the valley, with 70 percent of the area still to be surveyed.
“We’re doing the best we can to protect the sites while allowing the training to proceed,” she said. “It’s a real balancing act.”
Army Gen. Jim Hill stressed that the military is listening to the community. “You being here shows us that you’re concerned,” he told the visitors. “We want to be good stewards of the land.”
Said James Manaku of Makaha: “I think the military is being more sensitive. In the old days they just came right in and blew up people’s property. I’m very glad they’ve scaled it down. I’m not anti-military. They need to train. . . . (But) eventually I’d like to see them leave.”
Next month, 734 Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., are scheduled to land at Makua, with vehicles crossing the beach and Farrington Highway into the valley, said a military spokesman. Matting would be used to protect the beach and hovercraft would return to ships offshore after depositing troops on the sand, he said.