Editorial: Army has not made case for Makua plan

Posted on: Sunday, June 14, 2009

Army has not made case for Makua plan

Forging a military operations plan that adequately balances training needs with environmental and community concerns is a difficult prospect even under ideal circumstances.

There’s no question: Our troops must be allowed to train and as a community, we need to do our part to support that.

Unfortunately, the history of the Army’s use of Makua Military Reservation has yielded circumstances that are anything but ideal, which complicates the matter of striking a balance immeasurably.

Having live-fire training so close to populated areas has drawn its own fire from residents who don’t like the intrusion of flyovers and explosion noise into their enjoyment of home and recreation areas. But in particular the wildfires produced by that weapons training – suspended since 2005 – is what has eroded any trust that existed between Wai’anae Coast residents and the Army.

Acres of vegetation, including endangered species, were destroyed. Indeed, incendiary devices in a region that is prone to brushfires anyway is worrisome for people who live in neighboring housing areas.

It’s in this context that the Army’s final environmental impact statement on Makua training seems to fall short. The analysis does not adequately make the case for the Army’s “preferred alternative,” one that would authorize the maximum use of the valley with the minimum restrictions on the weaponry to be used. Surely the training objectives can be achieved through less destructive proceedings.

The bottom line, according to the EIS, is that the Army needs to train in an area that can accommodate what are called “convoy live-fire training exercises” for an entire company of troops. Makua is one, but the training area at Pohakuloa on the Big Island is also big enough, as well as being more insulated from residential areas and less vulnerable to environmental damage.

The Army favors the most expansive Makua plan, one that would enable up to 50 company-level exercises per year and 200 convoy live-fire exercises annually, events that could involve tube-launched missiles, rockets and illumination munitions.

The rationale is that the Army needs large training sites on O’ahu because time between deployments can be short and moving everything to Pohakuloa would be costlier.

Opponents acknowledge that leaving O’ahu means less time with families, but they argue persuasively that this disadvantage is offset by what Big Island training offers: Packing and heading off to Pohakuloa is more realistic preparation for actual deployments.

Pohakuloa is still being built out for these operations, so the Army could make the case for using the O’ahu valley on a temporary basis. Even so, Makua isn’t quite ready, either; erosion has damaged the essential firefighting access roads, so repair work would push off when such operations could resume in Wai’anae.

And whatever temporary use might be necessary in Makua, there’s no compelling reason for taking the most environmentally damaging route possible.

Before making its final decision on training operations in the next month, Army officials need to carefully consider the concerns of the community and realize that this decision will surely impact that relationship going forward.

Source: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009906140339

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