Why not answer ‘Why Hawaii?’ for Stryker brigade?
A federal appeals court has ruled that the Army violated environmental law by not properly considering alternatives to Hawaii for its Stryker brigade.
WITH its wealth of resources, its record of conflict in Hawaii and with the nation's military stability at stake, it is puzzling why the Army did not carefully adhere to an environmental law that has tripped up its operations in the past.
The Army's failure will set back its plans to establish a Stryker Combat Brigade here indefinitely, if not because of continued legal wrangling, then because it still will have to do what it should have done initially to comply with the law.
A federal appeals court ruled last week that the Army violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it did not consider all alternatives in its decision to install the brigade in the islands. The court ordered the Army to prepare a supplemental environmental analysis to answer the question, "Why Hawaii?" to quote the ruling.
Three Hawaiian groups, represented by public interest law firm Earthjustice, challenged a district court ruling last year that allowed the Army to begin transformation of a brigade at Schofield.
However, the appeals court agreed with the group's contention that the law required the Army to evaluate reasonable alternatives to basing the Stryker unit here. The groups say the new brigade with its 328 24-ton armored vehicles would cause irreparable harm to environmental and cultural sites on Oahu and at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.
A long-standing conflict concerning live-fire training at Makua Valley, environmental damage of thousands of acres in Hawaii and unfulfilled promises to clean up ordnance at abandoned training grounds have bred mistrust among Hawaiians and others. Earlier this year, work on Stryker training ranges at Schofield was stopped after a buffer protecting the Haleauau heiau was bulldozed, prompting more questions about compatibility.
The Stryker brigade promises to bring a desirable flood of federal money to the state, which counts military spending as second only to tourism for its economic well-being. So far, at least $693 million has been committed for related construction projects.
What will happen next is unclear.
Earthjustice says the ruling should bring Stryker- project work to a halt, citing a November 2004 agreement with the Army that if the court finds against the Army, it would "refrain from implementing, executing or proceeding" with project activities. However, the Army disagrees, so the first order of business will be to return to court on that issue.
In any case, resolution could be a long way off. If the Army complies with the court's direction for an environmental assessment, the process likely would take years, judging from the Army's pace in producing an evaluation for Makua Valley, which was due in 2004. Legal appeals also would place resolution far in the future.