Training for Iraq might justify valley’s use
The Army is asking a federal judge to allow departure from a lawsuit settlement so it can resume live-fire training in Makua Valley.
MAKUA Valley has been off-limits to live-fire Army training under a 2001 settlement with local opposition, but the 25th Infantry Division is going to court to seek renewal of the exercises. The need for adequate training of 7,000 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers destined for Iraq is a compelling reason to allow the activity, despite the Army's sluggish pace in completing an environmental impact statement.
The valley near Oahu's western tip of Kahe Point is the only place on the island where the military can conduct live-fire training for large units. The only other location in Hawaii suitable for that type of training is the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island, but that is too far away from Schofield Barracks, the division's base, to be of practical use.
The Army's use of Makua Valley has been less than stellar. It suspended training there in 1998 after fires burned through environmental and archaeological sites. A federal judge ordered the Army to study the effects of its training missions, but Malama Makua, a native Hawaiian group, found the study unacceptable and filed suit with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.
Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, the two sides agreed on a settlement that temporarily disallowed the firing of weapons in the valley pending completion of an environmental assessment beyond what Malama Makua sought. More than four years later, the assessment has not been completed, although it was supposed to have been finished in October 2004. Its completion now is targeted for next spring.
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin suggests the brigade be temporarily sent to a mainland base, but that is unrealistic. Even before 9/11 and the war in Iraq, Senator Inouye warned that the local opposition could prompt the military to close Hawaii bases, turning Wahiawa into a "ghost town." Those economic realities still exist but have become secondary.
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