Army “scales back” plans for Makua?

The Army proposed an extraordinary expansion, then scaled back to a more “reasonable” level of training, which is still more than before.  In fact, they are way overdue to clean up and return the land.   What’s a more reasonable level of theft, assault, desecration?

Posted on: Friday, July 17, 2009

Army scales back plans for Makua

Earthjustice attorney not satisfied, calls latest move ‘a common trick’

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Eight years after agreeing to do so, the Army yesterday completed an environmental examination of military training in Makua Valley by saying it wants to conduct up to 32 combined-arms live-fire exercises and 150 convoy live-fire exercises annually in the 4,190-acre Wai’anae Coast valley.

The “record of decision” by the Army scales back from the 50 combined arms and 200 convoy exercises the Army selected in June as a “preferred” alternative.

“This (Makua) environmental impact statement was a very thorough and publicly open process,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, commander of the Army in Hawai’i and the deciding official. “We’ve reached the best decision that allows our soldiers and small units to train locally and reduces their time away from families, all while ensuring the Army continues to protect the precious environment entrusted to us.”

To reduce the risk of range fires and threats to endangered species and cultural sites, the Army said it would not use tracer ammunition, TOW or Javelin missiles, anti-tank and 2.75-caliber rockets, or illumination rounds.

Additionally, the proposed use of added training lands at Ka’ena Point and what’s known as the “C-Ridge” in Makua are off the table, the Army said.

But Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who has represented community group Malama Makua in a nearly nine-year lawsuit against the Army, said the level of training proposed still far exceeds anything conducted by the Army before 2004.

Under the terms of a 2001 settlement, live fire with helicopters, mortars, artillery and a company of about 150 soldiers was halted in 2004 because the Army hadn’t completed the agreed-upon environmental impact statement.

“This is a common trick, which is, let’s propose something totally horrendous … and then compromise with something that’s just awful, and people will be thankful, and that’s sort of the (Army’s) approach,” Henkin said of the Army’s record of decision issued yesterday.

Henkin said the Army proposes to do at Makua essentially the same training and use the types of weapons “that time and time again in the past have caused wildfires that have killed endangered species.”

A succession of fires from training in the valley was used as legal justification to seek the environmental study. More than 50 endangered plant and animal species, and more than 100 archaeological features, are in the valley area.

One of many delays to the study’s completion was a fire that was intentionally set by the Army in 2003 to manage grasses but got out of control and charred half the valley.

The approximately 6,000-page report follows numerous setbacks and court filings, and millions of dollars spent on studies and legal fees by the Army, which has seen the loss elsewhere of live-fire training ranges.

The Army discounted building a company combined-arms facility at roomier Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island, saying it would cost an “exorbitant” $271 million, and keep soldiers away from families longer.

The Army wants 10 of the exercises annually at Makua for the 3,500-soldier 3rd Brigade, but Henkin said the brigade until now has been able to accomplish its training at Pohakuloa, on the Mainland or abroad.

“This is not additional training. This is not additional separation from the family,” Henkin said. “This is part of their normal training routine.”

Henkin said people should not think the Army will return to live fire in the valley anytime soon if for no other reason than the “burn index,” or grass dryness factor, is too conducive to fire over the summer. Henkin also said the Army failed to complete some agreed-upon studies, something the Army disputes.

“They didn’t do it, so we will see them back in court,” Henkin said.

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