Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Groups sue over
Strykers in isles

The native Hawaiians build
their lawsuit around the
Army's environmental report

Several native Hawaiian groups filed a federal lawsuit yesterday seeking to block the 25th Infantry Division from converting one of its combat units to the Army's new Stryker force.

David Henkin, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the lawsuit alleges that the Army failed to consider locations other than Hawaii in its final environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Henkin, who represents Ilioulaokalani Coalition, Na Imi Pono and Kipuka, said he hopes to meet with Army lawyers before deciding to seek a temporary retraining order.

Capt. Kathleen Turner, Army spokeswoman, said: "We are disappointed that we have been sued, as the Army has worked hard to involve the community and public throughout the planning process for transformation and the detailed environmental study conducted to ascertain the environmental effects of transformation.

"We are a nation at war and the entire Army in Hawaii is participating in the global war on terrorism. We believe the Stryker Brigade Combat Team is the best solution for our soldiers, and they deserve to have the best as they fight this war."

In approving the conversion of a 25th Division unit to a Stryker brigade, Lt. Gen. James Campbell, former commander of U.S. Army Pacific, said last month that the Army will spend $40 million for future preservation efforts and planned to work with preservation groups to minimize any adverse impacts.

Henkin said the lawsuit is built around the Army's own admission in its final environmental impact statement. "Transforming the 2nd Brigade in Hawaii would destroy native Hawaiian cultural sites, prevent the exercise of traditional practices and irreparably harm Hawaii's fragile and unique native ecosystems, as well as the endangered plants and animals that depend on them," Henkin said.

William Aila, spokesman for Na Imi Pono, said at an Iolani Palace news conference that the Army has several other sites on the mainland devoted to training, which could house the new Stryker brigades.

He said the Army has been repeatedly asked why those bases couldn't be used. "The Army said it couldn't be done even though there were two Stryker brigades at Fort Lewis in Washington and now they announced they will locate another one there.

"Over the past five years we've been asking this same question over and over again and never got any answer. The fundamental problem is that they lied to us."

Henkin emphasized that the lawsuit does not seek to limit Army training currently being conducted anywhere here by existing units.

The Army wants to start training with the 19-ton Strykers in 2007. Hawaii's Stryker Brigade Combat team will be the fifth of six units. One is already in combat in Iraq.

Schofield Barracks' Stryker brigade will be built around 310 19-ton, eight-wheeled vehicles. They are designed to bridge the gap between the Army's tanks and infantry. The Stryker can be deployed by C-130, C-17 or C-5 Air Force cargo aircraft.

However, a congressional report released Friday said a Stryker weighs so much that it curtails the range of a C-130 and under certain conditions it isn't able to take off in the higher elevations of places like Afghanistan.

The 25th Division's 2nd Brigade will get more than 800 new soldiers, boosting its rolls to more than 3,600, starting next March when the unit returns from Iraq.

Tomorrow, the Air Force will break ground on facilities for a new C-17 squadron at Hickam Air Force Base. The squadron, the first stationed outside the mainland, would be composed of 140 active Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard personnel. The first of eight 174-foot C-17s is expected to arrive in February.

At yesterday's news conference, Vicky Holt-Takamine, Ilioulaokalani president, said "Native Hawaiians have a unique spiritual relationship to the aina, or the land, and as a result, a kuleana (responsibility) to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of Hawaii for future generations. Transformation will cut us off from these resources, these sacred sites, which are vital to perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture."

The Army is planning 28 Stryker-related construction projects valued at $693 million, including several range complexes at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.

25th Infantry Division


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