Saturday, July 20, 2002

Marines gave the press a tour of an area in Waikane Valley yesterday where they want to resume training. From left, Marine Maj. Chris Hughes, Chief Warrant Officer Walt Romine, Staff Sgt. Daniel Fedder and Staff Sgt. Kelly Crawford led the tour.

Marines make the pitch
for Waikane training

They would not use live ammunition
in their jungle exercises

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Sarah Morris has lived nearly six decades in Waikane Valley and still remembers how "scary" it was when the Marines trained there using artillery cannons and other weapons.

"I could feel the air go 'woosh' when they fired those cannons," she said.

However, Morris, 67, said she supports the Marines' recent announcement that they want to return to the lush, damp tropical valley to undergo jungle training.

"I think the Marines will be good neighbors," said Morris, who moved to Waikane from Hakipu when she was 9. "I know they will be better than those movie people who just left."

Revolution Studio, which just completed shooting an $80 million Bruce Willis film tentatively called "Hostile Rescue," restricted her movements while they worked in the valley, she said.

Morris was told that the Marines from Kaneohe Bay do not plan to use live ammunition and that their training would be confined to the 187 acres they own, which would be fenced.

"I told them that I don't have any problems with them being there as long as they don't keep me from my farm," she said.

Morris grows papaya, eggplants and other vegetables on 3.5 acres that is separated from the Marines' property by Waikane Stream.

Waikane-area legislators said the Marines can win the confidence of area residents by keeping them informed.

Maj. Chris Hughes, Marine Corps spokesman, has been working on that for the past week.

"I am willing to meet with anyone who wants to talk about the proposal," he said.

The Marines have not used the valley since the Vietnam War era, with the last firing taking place in 1976.

Chief Warrant Officer Walter Romine, explosive ordnance officer for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said Marines from 1939 to 1976 fired 105 mm and 75 mm artillery cannons, mortars, bazooka rockets, rifle grenades and other weapons. His team of ordnance experts drive into the valley at least once a quarter to inspect the area.

"Especially after a good rain," Romine said, "it's good to see what erosion has uncovered."

Gordon Olayvar, a Marine Corps biological science technician, said he does not believe there are any endangered plants or animals living in the valley.

"Most of the vegetation here have been introduced and are very evasive," said Olayvar, who remembers hunting in the valley when he was growing up. "Not much has changed since then."

He has seen a few structures that may have some historical or cultural significance.

"These areas could be marked off and Marines would have to avoid them," he said.

Hughes said all these issues will be addressed by an environmental assessment the Marines plan to do once they get Pentagon approval.

The decision to bring training back to Waikane Valley came because Marines deployed to the Philippines have said they would have been better prepared if they had had jungle training, Hughes said.

Hughes said that no more than 100 Marines would be in the training area at one time.

Because the unpaved Waikane Valley Road is narrow -- allowing just one lane of traffic -- the Marines would leave their trucks on Kamehameha Highway and walk nearly two miles to the training site, Hughes said

A fence that surrounds the V-shaped proposed training site would be reinforced and rebuilt where needed, Hughes said.

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