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Thursday, September 21, 2000

Army wants to
resume live-fire
drills at Makua

The exercises were discontinued
in 1998 when errant shelling
started a wildfire

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Army would continue using Makua Military Reservation as a limited live-fire range, but would ban the firing of antitank missiles or tracer ammunition under a draft supplemental environmental assessment document.

"This alternative would allow the Army to execute its required training missions, and will not involve costs and other effects of range clearance and closure," the 122-page draft says.

The Army will meet with Waianae community leaders Monday night to explain the results of the study that began a year ago. It was spurred by a lawsuit calling on the military to stop operations there and return the valley, which has been under its jurisdiction since 1943, to the state. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Waianae Army Recreation Center.

Makua, located three miles north of Makaha, is the only place on Oahu where a company of about 150 soldiers trains under battlefield conditions using live ammunition. Training at Makua also has included using smaller units, such as squad and platoon operations, and night maneuvers.

The draft statement maintains that the loss of the 4,190-acre valley would mean the Army's major combat unit in the Pacific -- the 25th Infantry Division -- "will incur substantial expenses to transport its units elsewhere for training, or will experience degradation in readiness because its soldiers are not completing required training."

The Army said in the past that 18 Army companies trained in Makua four times a year for a total of 144 days.

In the past, Army leaders such as Maj. Gen. John Maher, then commander of the 25th Division, said losing the valley would jeopardize the future of the Army in Hawaii. The draft statement released today said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Historic Preservation Office have said the Army's proposal will not harm endangered species or damage cultural sites.

The Army discontinued live-fire training exercises in September 1998 after fires, started when artillery shells fell outside of the designated impact areas, threatened native and endangered species.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, representing the community group Malama Makua, sued the Army to stop the training.

An agreement was reached out of court a year later, dismissing the lawsuit while the supplemental environmental assessment was prepared.

The Army, Marines and National Guard say they need the Waianae site to train. It is one of three in the state where the military can use live ammunition. Limited live-fire training is allowed at Schofield Barracks. Live-fire training on the Big Island can be expensive, about $12 million a year.

The period for public comment on the assessment will end Oct. 23. Copies of the assessment are available at the Waianae Library.

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