Hawaiians not happy with Army training plans


Hawaiians not happy with Army training plans

By Audrey McAvoy – The Associated Press

Posted : Saturday Jun 6, 2009 12:42:12 EDT

HONOLULU – The Army wants to conduct about 50 company level live-fire training drills each year in Makua, a valley many Native Hawaiians consider sacred but that the Army views as vital to maintaining combat readiness.

It also wants to fire inert missiles and rockets, including those that carry a greater risk of igniting wildfire than other weapons.

The Army outlined its preferred training plan for Makua in a court-mandated environmental impact statement released Friday.

The proposal is designed to “enable the military in Hawaii to achieve and maintain readiness for immediate deployment,” the report said.

Maj. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, the commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, is expected to pick a course of action based on the results in 30 days.

The environmental impact statement is the final version of a study prepared in response to a lawsuit filed by a Waianae Coast community group, Hui Malama O Makua, in 1998. The group demanded, and a judge agreed, that the Army must conduct an environmental impact statement if it wanted to continue using the valley for live-fire training.

The Army released an earlier version of the report in 2005. Friday’s report incorporates issues since raised by the public, including examining Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island as an alternate live-fire training site to Makua.

The risk of wildfire is a major concern in part because the valley is home to dozens of Native Hawaiian cultural sites and several dozen endangered plant species that could burn in a blaze.

Fire broke out in Makua during Marine training in 1998. In 2003, a planned burn of brush by the Army raged out of control, scorching more than half of the more than 7-square-mile valley and destroying endangered plants.

The study analyzes five options, including not holding any live-fire training. Three of the options include training at Makua with varying degrees of weapons use and restrictions. The final alternative has the Army using Pohakuloa for live-fire training.

The option the Army has identified as its preferred alternative is the one that allows for the greatest use of weapons. It calls for soldiers to use TOW missiles – inert, tube-launched wire guided missiles – at Makua. These projectiles, along with 2.75 rockets and munitions, carry a greater risk of wildfire compared to weapons used in other alternative scenarios, the report said.

That’s because the missile or rocket propellant may not be fully consumed before the weapon reaches the ground.

David Henkin, an Earthjustice lawyer representing the Waianae community group, criticized the study for expressing preference for an alternative that would “lead to the destruction of irreplaceable cultural sites” and the “killing of endangered species.”

He noted the Army could still conduct training using less harmful training routines.

“The Army appears to be leaning toward the most destructive of the options it considered,” Henkin said. “That’s unacceptable.”

He also charged the Army failed to carry out all the analysis required under their settlement agreement. Moreover, Henkin said he has questions about whether the study complies with demands of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Army holds a lease from the state to use Makua until 2029.

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