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Friday, December 15, 2000

Makua exercises
draw lively fire

Many in the area say they were
shut out of the Army's decision
to resume live-fire exercises

By Harold Morse


An Army commander told Waianae residents last night the Army intends to resume live-fire training in Makua Valley, but in a way that won't harm the environment or archeological sites.

Community members said, however, that the Army has not fully addressed their concerns, and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund said it might be necessary to go to court to get a full environmental impact statement.

Residents were angry that they were not allowed to comment after Maj. Gen. James Dubik, commander of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) described a modified training plan.

"We have two very important simultaneous obligations," Dubik told about 100 people at the Waianae Army Recreation Center. "One is to preserve the Hawaiian culture and environment, not just in Makua, but all the training areas in Hawaii.

"The second is to prepare our soldiers for combat so that they have the highest chance of coming home alive. We believe both of these obligations can be exercised simultaneously."

Dubik talked about the Army's new environmental assessment report, which calls for a fire management program and ways to preserve more than 33 archeological sites in Makua Valley. The valley has been used for Army live-fire training since World War II.

However, the report was not available at the meeting.

"I was furious," said Frenchy DeSoto, former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee. "They laid it out; he walked away. And I don't believe it was the general's fault. I believe it was the staff people around him."

When she was invited to the meeting, DeSoto said, she was told people in the community would be allowed to comment on the report. "I made it a point to get up and move and go down there.

"But what really angered me is, he stacked the meeting, because he was supposed to be talking to this community." But people from Punaluu, Kaneohe, Mililani and other areas were there, she said.

DeSoto said she has not had a chance to read the report and knows only what Dubik said last night, but "they didn't touch on some things that are important to us. They didn't talk about the cumulative effect to the land. They didn't talk about how they're going to transport ammunitions right through our town and jeopardize our children. It was all a big show."

The report was to be available today at public libraries, and it will be on the Internet Monday at

Dubik and other speakers said the initial decision to bring back live-fire training to Makua calls for company-level exercises, involving about 150 participants at a time. No incendiary ammunition, tracers, rockets or missiles are to be used.

The Army maintains this change will eliminate the risk of brush fires, which have been a side effect of the training in years past. The Army stopped live-fire training in 1998 after the Malama Makua community group filed a lawsuit, alleging violation of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

John Fritschie, attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which was also involved in the lawsuit, said the Army agreed to address the impacts of training at Makua but chose to do an environmental assessment that does not involve the full participation and detailed analysis that goes into an environmental impact study.

Although the Army says it will not make a final decision until after Jan. 22, a finding of no significant impact "is the legal trigger that allows them to start activities in 30 days," he said.

Dubik said that squad- and platoon-level training goes on at Schofield Barracks, but that the Army has been handicapped the past two years by not having use of Makua for company-level training.

An ecosystem management plan was devised to protect 29 rare and endangered plants and habitats of rare and endangered animal species in the 4,200-acre reservation.

There will be a town meeting for public comment on the report Jan. 17 at the Waianae Army Recreation Center. Until Jan. 22, comments may be mailed to: Peter Yuh, NEPA Coordinator; Directorate of Public Works; U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii; Schofield Barracks, HI 96857-5013.

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