Friday, March 19, 2004

Live-fire training
gets test in court

A federal judge is weighing
its impact on Makua Valley

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway heard arguments yesterday on a lawsuit Hawaiians and environmentalists filed to stop a Marine unit from conducting live-fire training next week at the Army's Makua Valley range.

The cultural preservation group Malama Makua, backed by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed the challenge, alleging that the Marines' use of mortars and shoulder-launched rockets pose a fire threat and could harm endangered animal and plant species and cultural sites in the Waianae Coast valley.

Mollway made no immediate ruling on the groups' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the training.

David Henkin, of Earthjustice, argued that provisions in the October 2001 settlement agreement reached between Malama Makua and the Army allowing resumed training in the valley precluded the type of training planned by the Marines.

Under the reconfigured target area planned by the Marines, "many cultural sites are now in the cross hairs of these weapons," he said.

Mollway questioned military lawyers why the training had to be in Makua when the Marines, part of a rapid-response unit, could be deployed to any part of the world with much different terrain.

"What's so special about this particular site if you don't know where you are going? Why Makua and why now?" she asked.

When Henkin, too, questioned why the Marines "all of a sudden" find it important to train at Makua, which they have not used since 1998, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Meeker said the unit had just returned from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"They haven't been training. They've been fighting," he said.

Under Mollway's questioning, Henkin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Govindan argued to what extent a threat to endangered species had to be before the action causing the threat was barred under the Endangered Species Act.

Henkin cited the Army's planned controlled burn to clear 900 acres of brush last July that raged out of control and scorched more than half of the valley that many native Hawaiians consider sacred.

Another fire during Marine training at Makua in September 1998 charred 800 acres.


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