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Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Army to hold
more Makua talks
with residents

Issues include the transportation
of ammunition and the possible
contamination of drinking water

By Gregg K. Kakesako
and Debra Barayuga

Issues ranging from the transportation of ammunition on Farrington Highway into Makua Valley to the contamination of the area's drinking water will be the subject of Leeward Oahu community meetings as the Army continues its fight to resume training with ammunition in the valley.

Maj. Cynthia Teramae, 25th Division spokeswoman, said 14 issues were raised during a marathon 10-hour hearing in Waianae on Jan. 27 on the Army's plan to reintroduce live-fire training in Makua Valley.

"We plan to discuss these items at length with the residents through community meetings," Teramae said.

These community meetings could begin as soon as next week.

All types of training were suspended in the 456-acre Pililaau Military Training Range in Makua Valley in September 1998 as the Army worked with federal wildlife experts to determine how to protect the environment.

In December, the Army issued an environmental assessment, which maintained that its modified training plan would have no significant impact on the valley's 33 endangered plants and animals.

That plan called for a reduced number of soldiers training in the valley and a ban on tracer ammunition and other highly incendiary weapons.

Since 1992, the Army has realigned the pop-up targets in the training range so that the soldiers are never shooting toward any of the 41 historical features there.

The Army had hoped to resume training in Makua in March, but was forced to change its mind earlier this month under intense public pressure, and withdrew its finding of no significant impact.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway said she will rule by the end of the week on a lawsuit filed by the Army requesting that the court dismiss requests by Waianae activists to stop any resumption of training in Makua.

But Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of Malama Makua, said it was very clear to the plaintiffs that when the Army issued its findings, "it was what it said it was -- that it was a final decision."

The Army wasn't planning to do a more comprehensive environmental impact statement because the Army said there was no significant impact, he added.

"The fact that it allowed the public to comment after the fact didn't change the document to something other than what it was," Achitoff said. He said the Army is making up its own process and there is no such thing as a draft or tentative finding of no significant impact.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Meeker said the issue is now moot since the Army withdrew its finding. Maj. Gen. James Dubik, 25th Infantry Division commander, has said his division's readiness has been handicapped without Makua.

The Army has invested more than $10 million during the past several years to protect the valley's environment.

These changes include a fence that was erected along the ridges of the Ohikilolo and Kahanahaiki Valleys to keep feral goats out.

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