Saturday, November 6, 2004

Halt to Stryker plans

Hawaiian groups sought an
injunction until a suit is heard

A U.S. District Court judge has rejected a request by three native Hawaiian groups seeking to temporarily halt the U.S. Army's plans to transform its 2nd Brigade into a Stryker Brigade in Hawaii.

Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra denied a motion for preliminary injunction yesterday by Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, Na 'Imi Pono and Kipuka, finding that there wasn't sufficient basis to halt the Army's work between now and when the court can hear arguments on the merits of the case.

Ezra agreed with the Army that national security is a significant public interest that needed to be considered.

"Delaying or disrupting the conversion of the 2nd Brigade ... will significantly impact the sequence of Army transformation and reduce the overall effectiveness of Army forces currently fighting the global war on terrorism," he wrote in his ruling issued hours after hearing arguments.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represents the three groups, said they are disappointed that the court declined to put a temporary stop to the transformation pending a final decision on their claims that the Army "blatantly violated" the law by refusing to consider locations outside Hawaii -- "locations where the Army could achieve its goals in a less environmentally destructive manner."

Henkin said the groups remain committed to protecting Hawaii's precious cultural and natural heritage from a transformation project that even the Army concedes would have devastating impacts.

Earthjustice filed suit against the Army in U.S. District Court on behalf of the organizations on Aug. 17, challenging its plans until a more comprehensive environmental assessment is conducted.

In his 19-page ruling, Ezra said the plaintiffs' assertions of irreparable harm were "too speculative" given the Army's slow pace of construction and the lengths it has taken to eliminate and mitigate impacts to cultural sites.

Among the activities the Army plans to undertake or that are under way include designing facilities, geological testing to determine the stability of soils where buildings will be constructed, and removing unexploded ordnance -- pre-construction work that does not involve any significant groundbreaking activities, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Yee.

"That work is crucial to the Stryker Brigade, but there is going to be no irreparable harm to these plaintiffs as a result of removing unexploded ordnance, design work and awarding (of) contracts."

Ezra also noted that halting the Army's work could endanger the public in that large numbers of unexploded ordnance have been identified for removal.

According to the secretary of the Army, the 2nd Brigade was selected for the transformation because of its strategic location in the Pacific Rim, allowing it to deploy to Pacific Rim hot spots in less time than units on the mainland.

"Ensuring our soldiers have the best equipment and facilities possible is critical to winning on today's battlefield," said Army spokeswoman Kathleen Turner, calling Ezra's ruling a step in that direction.

A trial date for arguments on the merits of the case has yet to be scheduled. Yee said they hope it will happen as early as February.



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