Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Federal lawsuit possible
over Makua brush fire

The Army is facing another lawsuit in its long-running battle with environmentalists and activists who want to stop military use of Makua Valley.

The dispute stems this time from a July 22 brush fire that burned 2,100 acres of the Makua Military Reservation and is believed to have destroyed at least 71 endangered plants and 150 acres of critical habitat used by the elepaio, a native forest bird.

The Army has acknowledged that the brush fire got out of control when winds in the valley shifted.

"For nearly two months we've been asking the Army to do the right thing, to go into formal consultation to make sure that military activities at Makua don't push native species to extinction," said Sparky Rodrigues, spokesman for Malama Makua. "But enough is enough. It's time for the Army to stop foot-dragging and start consulting."

Earthjustice, which has been representing Malama Makua during the decade-long legal battle, sent the Army a letter yesterday warning officials at Schofield Barracks that it intends to file a federal lawsuit unless the Army begins formal consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Col. David Anderson, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, said, "We are currently finalizing an internal evaluation regarding the fire and will initiate formal consultation once this effort is over."

The Army says this could happen by the end of the month. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, Earthjustice is required to give the Army 60 days' notice before it files a lawsuit.

Earthjustice believes the Army has violated the terms of an earlier agreement that included conservation measures and a fire management plan.

"If the Army's fire management plans were adequate, the July 2003 fire would not have turned into a disaster," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.

The Army, under a federal court settlement with Malama Makua in October 2001, was allowed to resume training with live ammunition in the valley while it completed an environmental impact statement.

At an Aug. 2 news conference, Gayland Enriques, deputy fire chief for U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, said the Army would re-examine its fire procedures and correct its method of clearing vegetation.

Maj. Stacy Bathrick, an Army spokeswoman, has said that "training at Makua Military Reservation is necessary to assure the 7,000 Schofield soldiers scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan next year are properly trained."


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