Friday, April 9, 1999

By Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin
The Ukanipo Council, composed of Waianae residents, performs
a prayer at Makua Valley before the detonation of
explosives last October.

Makua Valley
targeted for study

Resolution calls for
the Army to perform an
environmental assessment

By Pat Omandam


As a part-time teacher in Makaha, Meg Doherty worries about the danger of fires started from military exercises in Makua Valley.

Does the smoke pose a health risk to children? What is being burned? How does anyone know?

To learn more, Doherty told a joint House panel she attended Army public tours of the 4,200-acre Makua Valley. But instead of answers, Doherty said she was treated like a 2-year-old child: She was shown around but not given answers to her hard questions.

"They drive you around in a Humvee ... and serve me Kool-Aid and cake, but when asked questions about fires and the danger to the children, they don't take it seriously but give polite small talk," Doherty said.

The House Military Affairs and Environmental Protection committees yesterday stopped short of requesting the Army to prepare an environmental impact statement for military training in Makua Military Reservation, action others say is long overdue.

Instead, lawmakers passed an amended resolution now before the full House that asks the Army, among other things, to do an environmental assessment of live-fire military exercises in the valley and to notify the community before any military exercises begin there.

The proposed environmental assessment would analyze the need and impact of military exercise in Makua but would not be as detailed or time-consuming as the environmental report.

The Army began using Makua for military training in 1929, and in August 1964 signed a 65-year state lease for its exclusive use. The lease, which ends Aug. 16, 2029, is for $1 a year.

Hawaiians maintain that Makua is a sacred valley, the spiritual birthplace of Hawaiians that contains numerous religious sites and rare native plants. It also served as a popular fishing village as late as the mid-1900s.

Since 1990, at least 270 fires have been caused by military training in the valley, burning thousands of acres of native forest, endangered species and cultural sites.

Marjorie Ziegler, resource analyst at Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, said an environment impact statement would provide invaluable data on the Army's activities in the valley and would empower Waianae residents with facts needed to work with the military.

Ziegler said residents have asked the Army for years to prepare an environmental report on Makua, but it refused, saying the federal law does not require it. As a result, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit asking the Army to conduct the environmental impact statement.

The case is expected to be heard next year.

Several others yesterday agreed that an impact statement is necessary, but not members of the Military Affairs Council of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

Council Chairman Bill Paty said Makua Valley is critical to the readiness of ground forces stationed in Hawaii because it is the only live-fire range on Oahu for soldiers and Marines.

If an environmental impact statement is performed, Paty argues it would close the reservation for more than a year and seriously jeopardize the readiness of troops.

Paty said the Army has begun to work with the community to protect important sites in Makua and is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a biological assessment of the valley. As part of the assessment, which will be done in June, live firing on the reservation has not occurred since September 1998, Paty said.

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