The Army has until April 15 to identify high-priority sites for clearing unexploded ordnance from Makua Valley.
Earthjustice claims win in Makua suit
A federal judge told the Army yesterday to quickly expand cultural access to native Hawaiian sites at its Makua Military Reservation on Oahu, according to Earthjustice, which represents the community group Malama Makua.
The environmental law firm said U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway gave the Army until April 15 to identify high-priority sites for clearing unexploded ordnance in order to increase access to cultural sites.
Mollway also ruled the Army must provide a good-faith plan to clear the ordnance from the sites by July 15, it said.
Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, said in a written statement "The Army's intent, within the bounds of safety and applicable regulations, has always been to abide by all laws, regulations and agreements to grant access to cultural sites at Makua Military Reservation.
"In that respect, the Army is pleased the court recognized the danger that unexploded ordnance poses to visitors at Makua and that the Army, after appropriate consultations with the community, is the final decision maker as to limitations on public access. We've spent approximately $1.16 million removing unexploded ordnance from Makua since 2001. We did this to expand access to cultural sites and to provide safety of our soldiers who use the range. We also currently spend more than $4.3 million yearly at Makua to provide a safe haven for numerous threatened and endangered plants and animals which have not flourished in other areas due to development, destruction of habitat and other factors."
Earthjustice said the Army had been required to expand access under a 2001 settlement with Malama Makua.
"We're glad the court will be holding the Army's feet to the fire to make sure it finally keeps its promises and expands opportunities for cultural access to Makua's sacred sites," said Malama Makua's president, Sparky Rodrigues.
"Without access to sites, we cannot connect with our ancestors, aumakua (family gods) and akua (gods)," he said. "The Army's failure to keep its word these past seven years has been like locking the door to our church."
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said the order reaffirms the Army is not above the law.
"Nearly seven years ago, the Army pledged it would move quickly to expand cultural access at Makua," he said. "Instead of honoring that pledge, the Army used every excuse it could concoct to keep native Hawaiian practitioners from the valley's sacred sites.
"We are hopeful that, with the firm guidance the court provided today, we will finally be able to work with the Army to fulfill the 2001 settlement's promise of restoring cultural life to Makua," Henkin said.
Malama Makua sued the Army in 1998 to force it to complete an environmental impact statement before continuing to use the valley for live-fire training.
A judge ruled in favor of the group, though soldiers and Marines were allowed to resume live-fire training after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to prepare for Afghanistan deployments.
But the Army had to stop using the area again more than three years ago because it hadn't conducted the environmental study. It has been sending soldiers out of state for live-fire training while it finishes the report.
Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg K. Kakesako and the Associated Press contributed to this report.