Army delays Makua burnings
The controlled fires were meant to help complete a survey
The Army has postponed a series of controlled brush fires in Makua Valley Military Reservation, further delaying an environmental impact statement that was supposed to have been completed October 2004.
It is unknown how the delay will affect the Army's $693 million military construction project to accommodate the 25th Division's new Stryker Brigade on Oahu and the Big Island. Several of the projects include renovations to Schofield Barracks training ranges similar to those in Makua.
The Army has said it needs these controlled brush fires at Makua to finish historical and cultural assessments of the 4,190-acre training range -- one of the key components of the environmental study.
The Army declined to answer questions on the status of the controlled burns or when it expects to complete the environmental impact statement. In the past, the Army has told the federal court that it would be done this spring.
Yesterday, Kendrick Washington, Army spokesman, would only say that "it would be inappropriate to reply to your queries at this time due to ongoing litigation concerning Makua Military Reservation."
But an attorney representing several groups opposed to the continued military use of the valley said controlled burns are not permitted there during the summer, and the Army might have to wait until the fall to conduct them.
"There are times of the year when you cannot do a controlled burn there, and summer is one of those times," said David Henkin, attorney for Earthjustice.
Henkin said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which protects the more than 30 endangered plants and four animals that live in the valley, has set certain conditions when fires can be set.
"Those conditions no longer prevail," Henkin said. "The next time that occurs will be in the fall."
Several controlled brush fires were planned for March, but adverse weather and wind conditions forced the Army to cancel the operations.
The Army had planned to clear 86 of the 4,856 acres it uses for training to help with the assessment of the historical sites and control the population of Guinea grass and haole koa shrubs in the area.
Henkin also said Earthjustice, which represents the Leeward Oahu group Malama Makua, is trying to settle out of court other issues dealing with what it considers the Army's failure:
» To allow access to the valley for visits to cultural sites.
» To complete archaeological surveys.
» To adequately study possible contamination of fish and limu that live in the oceans fronting the training range.
Henkin said unexploded-ordnance experts have told Schofield Barracks officials that they needed to clear areas leading to and surrounding cultural sites to "about a foot in depth."
"We are waiting for them to do that," Henkin said.
Since January 2005, Henkin said, "people haven't been allowed to those cultural sites."
"The people in the Waianae area don't fish for recreational purpose," Henkin said. "They eat what they catch and harvest.
"But when it rains, there are at least 40 contaminants from unexploded ordnance to heavy metals that drain from the valley into the ocean."
A study of marine life in the stream mouth is supposed to be completed this summer.
Under a federal court agreement, the Army was forced to stop firing live ammunition in the valley in 2001 until it completed an environmental impact study. However, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Army reached an agreement with Malama Makua to allow live ammunition to prepare soldiers and Marines who were going to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Last year, the Army sought a similar agreement to allow live-fire training in Makua for the more than 7,000 Schofield Barracks deploying to Iraq this summer.
But U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway rejected that request in February because the Army had not finished the required environmental impact statement.
The last time the military used live ammunition in the valley was August 2004.