Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Army delays
resumption of
Makua training

In a settlement with a Waianae
group, the Army will study its
environmental impact

By Pat Omandam


The U.S. Army will not resume training at Makua Valley -- possibly for another 18 months -- until it first completes a comprehensive study of the environmental impact of training there, under a settlement announced by the group Malama Makua.

The nonprofit Waianae community group sued the Army last year to force it to comply with federal law that requires U.S. agencies to take a hard look at potential environmental impact before taking actions that might cause significant environmental harm.

It announced the agreement yesterday.

"This settlement is a major victory for the Waianae community, which has said for years that the military's training at Makua Military Reservation has a significant impact on the people, the land and the resources at Makua," said Sparky Rodrigues, president of Malama Makua.

"We are encouraged that the Army is finally going to follow the law, but we will also be watching to make sure that the studies are adequate and that the community is actively involved," he said.

The Army has not trained at the Makua Military Reservation since September 1998, after Malama Makua warned it would sue if the Army did not continue consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effect of military exercises on endangered species at Makua.

The training area provides habitat for more than 30 endangered plants, the 'elepaio bird (a proposed endangered species), the endangered pupu kani'oe (Oahu tree snail) and dozens of additional Hawaiian plants and animals.

The training also has caused fires and introduced alien plants and animals that pose a threat to native species and their habitat. There have been at least 270 fires caused by military training in the valley since 1990.

David Henkin, staff attorney at the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents Malama Makua, said yesterday the National Environmental Policy Act gives the Army a choice either to prepare an environmental impact statement, a detailed document that would look at every aspect of the impact of training at Makua, or an environmental assessment, which is done if an agency is unsure of the effects of its actions.

Given the biological and cultural riches in the valley, Henkin said an impact statement is what is needed.

But if the Army choses to do an environmental assessment, the group will ensure it gives the community information on the environmental, economic and social impact of training on the valley, he said.

Henkin said the study could take as long as 18 months, and won't likely be done this calendar year.

The Army began using Makua for military training in 1929, and in August 1964 signed a 65-year state lease for its exclusive use. The $1 a year lease ends in 2029.

Hawaiians maintain Makua is a sacred valley, and the spiritual birthplace of Hawaiians. And it was once a popular fishing village as late as the mid-1900s.

Roger Furrer, a Makaha farmer and Malama Makua member, said yesterday the group's long range goal is the eventual closure of the training range.

But he admits that won't happen until the entire Waianae community, and not just Malama Makua, have their say on how that should be done.

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