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Under fire


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POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

Opponents of live-ammunition military training at Makua expressed dissatisfaction yesterday with the Army's announcement that it would scale back its exercises in the environmentally and culturally sensitive valley.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said the organization would take legal action to prevent the Army from following its new plans for maneuvers, which he said can be conducted at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island or on the mainland.

“;The Army has acknowledged that under current conditions it can meet its training requirements elsewhere,”; Henkin said.

In a “;record of decision”; for the final Makua Military Reservation environmental impact statement released yesterday, the Army said it will cut back the number of training exercises in the Waianae Coast valley.

Initially the Army wanted to conduct 50 combined-arms, live-fire exercises per year, involving the simultaneous use of infantry, aviation, artillery and engineer units. Under the final EIS, those would be reduced to 32 per year.

Additionally at first, the Army said it wanted to conduct 200 convoy live-fire exercises every year. Those would be reduced to 150.

The Army said these exercises would be done without the use of tracers, tube-launched TOW anti-armor missiles, anti-tank and 2.75-caliber rockets, shoulder-launched multipurpose Javelin assault weapons or illumination munitions of any kind.

“;The elimination of these weapon systems greatly reduces the risk of range fires and environmental threats to endangered species and cultural sites, yet allows Hawaii-based units to train locally without the costly burden of additional deployments to PTA (Pohakuloa Training Area) or CONUS (continental USA),”; the Army said.

But Henkin said the Army was “;put on notice”; a month ago that the draft environmental impact statement for Makua was “;illegal.”;

The Army rejected conducting combined-arms, live-fire training exercises at Pohakuloa, on the mainland or at a site outside the United States or any other place in Hawaii.

“;We've reached the best decision that allows our soldiers and small units to train locally and reduces their time away from families, all while ensuring the Army continues to protect the precious environment entrusted to us,”; said Maj. Gen. Raymond Mason, commander of U.S. Army Hawaii, who made the final decision.

Malama Makua, a nonprofit corporation also represented by Henkin, sued the Army in 2000, claiming that military training was harming natural and cultural resources. 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.

Of the 4,190 acres in the valley, 1,136 acres are available for combined-arms, live-fire exercises.