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Thursday, November 13, 2003



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STAR-BULLETIN / 2002
In July 2002, after announcing that it was looking to resume jungle training in Waikane Valley, the Marine Corps gave a tour of the rough environment soldiers would be training in.



Waikane plans dropped

The Marines cite safety concerns
in deciding not to use the valley
for jungle training


Marine officials have decided against using 187 acres in Waikane Valley for jungle training, saying safety concerns were behind their unexpected change of plans.

More than a year ago, the Marine Corps announced plans for an environmental assessment to study using Waikane Valley as a jungle training site. The Marines planned to use land that it obtained through condemnation nearly three decades ago. The last time weapons were fired in the Windward Oahu valley near Waiahole was in 1976.

However, Maj. Chris Hughes, Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps spokesman, said last night that an environmental assessment over the past year uncovered safety issues.

Hughes said Marine Corps officials have learned that there were insufficient records to determine the exact number of rounds that were fired in the remote valley.

"A draft environmental assessment provided significant information on cultural and natural resources in Waikane Valley, and will be disclosed to the public for review," said a Marine Corps release issued last night.

In a media tour of the valley floor in July 2002, the Marines estimated that from 1939 to 1976, 105 mm and 75 mm artillery cannons, mortars, bazooka rockets, rifle grenades and other weapons were used in Waikane Valley training. At the time, Marine Corps biologists said they did not believe any endangered species or plants lived in the valley, nor were there any sites of cultural or historical significance.

The war of terrorism, especially in the Philippines, is what prompted the decision to bring training back to Waikane Valley, Hughes said then. Kaneohe Marines could be deployed to the Philippines and would be better prepared if they had jungle training, he said.

Officials said at the time that they hoped to limit training to no more than 100 Marines at one time and that no live ammunition would be allowed. Marines would have had hike about two miles from Kamehameha Highway via Waikane Valley Road to the training site, which has been fenced off.

The area was used last year by Revolution Studio as a movie double for Africa for the Bruce Willis action movie "Tears of the Sun."

Hughes said the Marine Corps will now "pursue other options" and that it still has Okinawa, which it uses for jungle training.

"But Okinawa doesn't satisfy all our needs," Hughes added. "There is tremendous benefit in bringing them (Marines) home at the end of the day."

The Marines' decision was announced at last night's Kahaluu Neighborhood Board monthly meeting.

It comes at a time when the Army is in a heated battle over both the continued use of Makua Valley as a live-fire training range and the planned expansion of its Wahiawa facilities at Schofield Barracks and the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island to accommodate the 25th Infantry Division's new Stryker combat vehicles.

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